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Third Sunday of Lent: Music can bring us closer to Jesus during Lent

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Musician John Michael Talbot performs in concert at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in Patchogue, N.Y., in 2007. The song "Holy Ground" became widely used in Catholic churches after a version was released by the singer under the Birdwing Label. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

Sometimes we don’t “go” to prayer, but prayer comes to us.

Maybe a sunrise, a poem, a location becomes an experience of a thin place, a moment when we feel a movement of grace.

Often, those moments are inspired by music. Maybe it’s an old favorite, or something new, something you hum as you do the laundry, or something beautifully arranged by your church choir.

Music can bring us closer to Jesus, and during Lent, a good hymn helps us experience the Lord.

The hymn “Holy Ground” is simple, has only a few lines, and seems particularly appropriate for the Third Sunday of Lent, when we read about Moses hearing the voice of God from a burning bush.

The song’s first lines are these: “This is holy ground/ We’re standing on holy ground/ For the Lord is present/ And where he is is holy.”

Effie Caldarola
Effie Caldarola writes for the Catholic News Service column “For the Journey.” (CNS photo)

If you Google this hymn, you may find other songs with the same or similar titles. There’s even a country-western song titled “Holy Ground.”

The one referred to here was written by an American pastor, Christopher Beatty, who also wrote the beautiful tune. If you search, look for the Beatty lyrics to “Holy Ground.”

The song became widely used in Catholic churches after a version was released by Catholic artist John Michael Talbot under the Birdwing Label.

The hymn was inspired by Exodus 3:5, which is part of the reading for Mass on the Third Sunday of Lent.

In this reading, Moses is doing a simple task, tending sheep for his father-in-law. His duties take him near Mount Horeb, and it’s there he sees a dramatic sight. A bush has burst into flame, yet the bush is not being consumed by the fire. To add to the spectacle, an angel can be seen within the bush.

As Moses goes closer to inspect, the voice of God calls to him. He is instructed to come no nearer and to remove his sandals, for the place he is standing is holy ground.

The liturgical reading (Ex 3:1-8, 13-15) includes God’s instruction to Moses, who will ultimately liberate God’s people from their captivity in Egypt.

But the song, and the reading, are memorable for the circumstances of this dramatic moment of grace between Moses, the humble sheepherd, and his God.

Notice that God does not speak to Moses from a traditional place of worship, or near an altar of sacrifice. Mount Horeb itself will become a holy mountain because of Moses’ encounters there. But at this moment, Moses is made aware of God in the field of his labor, amid his everyday duties. Moses receives the gift of God’s presence in the day’s ordinariness.

God’s presence consecrated that ordinary spot as sacred space.

The man who wrote this hymn was not a Catholic, but he might easily have been acquainted with St. Ignatius of Loyola, who taught us that God is present in all things, or with any of the mystics and saints who realized that God is present in our lives at all times, waiting to meet us there.

“The Lord is present,” wrote the songwriter, “and where he is is holy.” That means our lives are holy, our beleaguered earth is holy, the ground on which we stand in our busy workplace, doing the laundry, at the store — all of this is holy ground. Because God is there, and where he is is holy.

The original song had four verses, but normally the first two are used. The second verse begins, “These are holy hands/ He’s given us holy hands.”

St. Teresa of Ávila wrote the words, “Christ has no body but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours.”

Again, this lovely hymn reminds us as Catholics that all life is sacred, that our very humanity calls us into the presence of God.

Caldarola is a columnist for Catholic News Service.