“…They wandered the earth living in the desert wilderness, in caves, on barren mountains and in holes in the earth. Truly, the world was not even worthy of them, not realizing who they were.” (Hebrews 11:38)
Over lunch with friends, we somehow got into a conversation about the catacombs in Rome. One of our friends had visited Rome and had toured the catacombs. For the uninitiated, these particular catacombs were used as underground burial sites for early Christians and Jews who disagreed with the Roman practice of burning their dead.
During periods of Roman persecution of Christianity in the second through the early part of the fourth centuries, it was next to impossible for Christians to purchase land for burial purposes. The underground passageways just outside of the city became the place where families and churches found a final resting place for the bodies of their loved ones.
Thinking about these dead bodies being placed in elongated holes in the ground led me to think of this passage from Hebrews 11 describing the living “resting places” of many the heroes of the faith whose names we do not know, who nevertheless, persevered on faith alone. They were waiting for something far better than what the world could offer. They had to be expecting something better given the description of their circumstances we see in the verse.
I think, in some ways, Stevie Wonder’s Higher Ground* can serve as an anthem for those of us who, too, are waiting. While there are pantheistic (harmonizing multiple religions) influences in the song, the overall theme reflects Stevie’s belief that people will continue to do what they have always done, whether good or bad, but he is grateful to be given opportunities to repent of past sins, to learn from past mistakes and the errors of youth, and to keep trying until he reaches higher ground.
At one point near the end of the song, he refers to reaching the “highest ground.” For those whose bodies were buried in the catacombs or referenced in the verse above and for many of us still here, this is our aim, the highest ground. It’s what we’ve bet the proverbial ranch on.
* Higher Ground, written by Stevie Wonder. Released July 1973 by Jobete Music Co., Inc. on the Tamla label.
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