I have just finished reading Michael Plekon’s Hidden Holiness (University of Notre Dame Press, 2009). It is an unusually good book because it is both scholarly and useful. In its foreword, the archbishop of Canterbury says:
“The patriarch Enoch was a shoemaker; with every stitch by which he joined the lower leather of a shoe to the upper leather, he united the Glory that is below with the Glory that is above.” This ancient rabbinical Jewish saying represents a vision in which holiness is a matter of connecting the ordinary matter of earth with its depths in the life of God. (page vii)
He continues, pointing out that a person who lives a life focused on holiness is “not primarily the high achiever of the moral life, the honours graduate in discipleship, but the person in whom the depths of the ordinary become visible” (page vii).
The rest of this rich, engaging book presents us with an astonishing amount of information in easy-to-digest story-form about different people who lived real Christian lives that were extraordinary in their ordinariness.
Here are some excerpts that give the flavor of this excellent book.
Etty Hillesum (1914-43) wrote diaries and letters from the Westerbork internment camp for Dutch Jews, saying in one letter: “And when the turmoil becomes too great and I am completely at my wits’ end, then I still have my folded hands and bended knee” (33).
“[W]onder what it might mean for God to become human. What would this mean for God? What would it mean for us human beings?” (45)
“God . . . is ‘love without limits’” (53).
He also quotes author Kathleen Norris, who describes holiness as that which “takes a stand for awe and wonder and beauty even in the midst of ordinary daily activities” (139).
This Christocentric book is full of stories that inspire because we see ordinary people like you and like me who tried and still do try to live out Christ-focused, other-loving lives. Michael Plekon has done us all a great service with this well-written offering.