September 25, 2017
By Jane Bishop Halteman

The holiness stream focuses on an ever deeper formation of our inner personality, our heart, to enable us to live whole, functional lives in a dysfunctional world.

Renovare, the organization founded by Quaker theologian Richard Foster, also author of Streams of Living Water, describes the holiness tradition as highlighting “the re-formation of our hearts so that we are able to respond appropriately to the challenges of life. The word ‘holiness’ has some negative connotations today, but the original Greek meaning of the word virtue is simply ‘to function well,’” according to the Renovare website.

“Virtuous life is not about rules or judgement, perfectionism, or some kind of merit gained by good deeds. It encourages us to the ultimate goal: not to ‘get us into heaven, but to get heaven into us,’” the Renovare statement continues. “It is attentiveness to the source of our actions, to the condition and motives of the heart, and taking on new patterns of life that flow naturally from within.”

About this tradition and its connection to Jesus, Foster says in Streams of Living Water, “We see Jesus consistently doing what needs to be done when it needs to be done. We see in him such deeply ingrained ‘holy habits’ that he is always ‘reponse-able,’ always able to respond appropriately. This is purity of heart. This is the virtuous life.” 

Yesterday, as our Kern Road worship service focused on the holiness stream, the second in our six spiritual traditions series and what Renovare references as the ‘Virtuous Life:  Responding with integrity,’ we learned from Pastor Janice that this tradition is commonly seen as the one in which Anabaptism came into being.

Becky shared in her reflection on the holiness stream that the word ‘holiness’ reminds her of her “19th and 20th century ancestors founding Bible schools, railing against the vices of alcohol and earrings on women, their strict adherence to the Sabbath, and devotion to prayer and Scripture reading.”

Her words took me back to the early years of my Mennonite upbringing when it seemed to me that the church spent much time exhorting young women in particular not to participate in the ways of the world.  We were expected not to cut our hair, to wear our skirts long and never to dress in pants or shorts, to avoid makeup and jewelry.  Families did not own television sets or buy gas or restaurant food on Sundays. 

While claiming the holiness path as her own, Becky said she resists “the language of holiness because it speaks to me of trying to be righteous and I spend very little time thinking about my own righteousness, or lack thereof.  For me this path isn’t about building up my character, rather it is profoundly outward looking.  It is about reaching out to gain some kind of wisdom about the world so that I may discern how to live in it well.”

Acknowledging that people of faith occupy the streams in different ways based on personal circumstances, Becky noted that her own context, “the suffering of our planet and its creaturely inhabitants” brings a “strongly environmental flavor” to the holiness path in her time and place.  “Deep in the core of my being I know that to be a follower of Christ means that I must attend to the world God created and seek to live in such a way that I am a blessing to it and not a curse.”

For Becky that commitment plays itself out in a variety of ways, including how she gardens, “building up my soil and plantings so that more creatures can find life” and as she composts and recycles and chooses “a plant-based diet to testify to the inherent value of other creaturely lives.”

Janice reminded us in her sermon that a “holy life is one that functions well, rather than (the living out of) a list of dos and don’ts.”  The collage at the top of this post reflects some of the ways Kern Road enables us to function well as a community of faith and as individuals within that community (from top to bottom and left to right): marching for the marginalized, offering gratitude for the harvest, participating in the Indiana/Michigan Mennonite Central Committee relief sale, honoring those who have gone before us, supporting our newlyweds, observing the season of Lent, learning from our Muslim neighbors, celebrating Advent, making music together.

Becky noted that she experiences the holiness tradition “as joyful and electric because I have tasted grace.  God has enthusiastically said ‘Yes’ to me in Christ.  I don’t have to get everything right, but I am asked to live and be in this world in a way that testifies to the good things that God wants for the world.”

And what about her ancestors?  “God has said ‘Yes’ to them too.  Although they got caught up in moral battles that didn’t matter, they also got many things right.  They looked after people in need, treated illnesses without expecting payment, fought for women’s right to vote, and resisted racial injustice where they encountered it.”

How has the holiness tradition impacted your life? How are you being called to respond to your circumstances with integrity, to function well where you find yourself?