I’ve been on the job hunt these past few weeks. My two-year contract at the church I currently work at is starting to come to an end. As a result, I’ve been – like a twenty-first century subscriber of the Qohelet’s advice – putting my name out into the internet and seeing what returns (Eccl. 11:1). During one of the interviews I had, the senior pastor looked over my own journey from church-to-church, denomination-to-denomination, and asked, “as someone who came from your background, what is one of the blessings that you have received from the churches of your past?”
Thinking over my upbringing in churches influenced by the Charismatic, Evangelical, and Holiness streams of Christian tradition, I paused before responding.
I remember when the first church I remember attending moved from a traditional white-steepled building in my hometown to the back of a furniture store one town over. While we had been sharing the previous space with the local Baptist congregation, the church hoped to have a place to call their own, rubbing elbows in an industrial space with some odd bedfellows when compared to our previous location.
The Presbyterian theologian Belden Lane, reflecting on his own experience in evangelical spaces during revival, noted:
The small Bible church of which I was a part met for a time in an abandoned storefront and even, for several months, in an old Army barracks, unoccupied since the Second World War. A great liminal energy was generated by both spaces. Here I discovered a God who was too untamed, too unpredictable and demanding to be contained in the cultivated interior of a traditional sanctuary. The temporary, ersatz character of the sites themselves offered a sense of immediacy in worship that was appropriate to a God who “tabernacled” with his people.
In effect, the experience that Lane recalled was also shared in the back of the furniture store, a place one would not typically associate with a worshiping congregation – perhaps a carpenter, though. “Just sitting there was a defiant proclamation to the world that God had supplanted all merchandise and usurped every claim to stubborn secularity. We sang songs… and exulted in the incongruity of God’s strange presence.”
For me, it marked the start of an ongoing journey bridging the sacred and secular divide, moving from seeing the world in a stark contrast of sacred and profane to one “charged with the grandeur of God.” In truth, it was my upbringing in the small Assemblies of God congregation that prompted me to expect God’s presence in the world, inviting or expecting the Holy Spirit wherever I went. A gift I received along the way was when mentors and fellow pilgrims helped me to pivot, allowing me to realize that “surely the Lord [already was] in this place—and I did not even know it!” (Gen 28:17).
Perhaps it’s because it’s Ash Wednesday, or because I’m feeling particularly sentimental as I reflect on my journey today, but God in the mundane has been on my mind. As the priest placed ashes upon my forehead and reminded me that I, too, am “dust, and to dust I shall return” (Gen. 3:19), I was reminded that God too, has been in this place, this time, and I did not even know it.
Even with dust, God is present, bringing forth meaning and purpose and new life.
Even as dust, temporarily animated, God is walking with me.
And even when I return to dust, there is no place, there is no experience that we believe that God is not already there.
And I can trust wherever I land, God will be there, already bringing new life, meaning, and purpose from the dust.
 Belden C. Lane, Landscapes of the Sacred: Geography of the Sacred. Expanded Edition (Baltimore, MD, Johns Hopkins Press, 2001), 183.
 Gerard Manley Hopkins, “God’s Grandeur.”