Doc Holliday: What did you ever want?
Wyatt Earp: Just to live a normal life.
Doc Holliday: There’s no normal life, Wyatt, it’s just life.
Get on with it.
Wyatt Earp: Don’t know how.
A few lines from near the end of the movie Tombstone, a curious choice for a post about holiness, I know. Yet… as I start looking more at Everett Lewis Cattell’s little book The Spirit of Holiness, that’s the quote that came to mind.
Cattell was a missionary in India during the middle decades of last century. His time in India pulled him out of denominational boundaries–as missionary work often does–to engage people with the message of Christ, finding co-workers from various backgrounds and traditions. This introduction to theological diversity pushed him to explore Scripture more, to look at the fundamental truths rather than commonly accepted shibboleths.
In light of this, and his continued wrestling with the work of God in his own life and work, he sought to understand the depths of the spiritual life, to find what holiness really is.
We often see holiness as the impossible dream, or the ever present judge of our seemingly persistent inadequacies. Holiness is often tied to a particular place, building, grove, profession.
We other holiness to be something apart from us, something against us. Or we institutionalize and domesticate holiness, making it a synonym for a particularly rigid religiosity. Stern expressions, textured robes, incense rising, words ponderously intoned.
The Spirit is none of those things. God was not, we might rephrase the line from 1 Kings, in the robes, God was not in the altar, God was not in the legalism, God was not in the blue blazer and tan slacks. The Spirit moves like the wind, water flowing, fire blazing. God is not contained by a temple or building or boundaries, as if people were lord of the Lord.
The Spirit is revealed as the Holy Spirit, and so holiness is tied to this work of the Spirit.
Which brings me back to that quote from the famous theologian Doc Holliday, “There’s no normal life. It’s just life. Get on with it.”
In his introduction, his setup to all that follows that reflects his long exploration, Cattell writes, “I am impressed from study that life in the Spirit is hard to express, just because it is life.”
The Holy Spirit is also the Spirit of life. Holiness is life in full, a whole life, being fully alive in a way that resonates with the creator of all of life. This is a celebratory life, a hope-filled life, a life of patience, and kindness, and generosity. It is the life of God expressed in and through us in the unique ways God has made us.
How do we find language for this? Maybe we don’t. Maybe we can’t reign it in or define it down to encapsulate it onto an easily memorized mantra. The work of holiness is the experience of being enlivened, becoming in full.
Many ask, “How should we be holy?” “There is no separate holiness,” might be the best answer, “it’s just life. Get on with it.”