To see what is sacred, look around you
Recently, I drove across central Washington on my way to Seattle. For over two hours, I listened to marvelous music by George Gershwin. I was struck by the wildly diverse “soul colors” of his music. Driving up out of Vantage, I listened to “Rhapsody in Blue.”
As I neared the Rye Grass summit, the finish of “Rhapsody” came closer and closer. Rounding the last corner to the summit I heard that great musical ending as Mount Rainier burst into my view. Wow! What outstanding timing for my ears, eyes, and soul! A very sacred moment for me.
But how could this be sacred? “Rhapsody in Blue” is secular music. And Mount Rainier may be sacred to some Native American spiritual traditions, but not Christianity. (Ouch, what a prejudicial, outrageous statement!)
So today, let’s explore this question: What if there is more to “sacred” than we usually settle for? I believe there is so much more to sacredness. I no longer like to use “secular.” It is an artificial distinction. So what makes “secular” unsacred?
If you think my questions are secular – unsacred – here is a story from Scripture to consider. Acts 10 is the story of how and why Peter and Roman soldier Cornelius met.
Before they met, Peter had a dream in which he was surrounded by hooved animals – “unclean” by Jewish standards. But in that dream, God told Peter that what God created is never unclean (profane), but clean. After that dream, Peter met the gentile (read “unclean”) Roman soldder Cornelius.
Then he declared to other Jews gathered for a meeting that gentiles aren’t declared unclean by God, so neither should Peter or other Jews say anyone is profane or unclean. What a radical – both deep and extreme – statement of faith he made.
It certainly didn’t make him popular with some Jews. But it did make him more correct than he had been before his dream about the sacredness of what he thought was secular. God considered things and people sacred by their very creation. Could Peter do less? No.
Here is a working/functional description of sacred I’m living with today: Sacred is “whatever reminds us we are in the presence of God.”
I know that sounds too general for many people. It appears that God’s understanding of sacredness is far more inclusive than our traditional connecting “religious” and “sacred” together. The sacredness of life is all around us – and in us – in our ordinary lives. Tying sacredness to religion comes from the late 13th century. From that point, secular meant “living in the world, not belonging to a religious order.” So it became a way to describe what is clean and what is unclean.
When we divide life experiences between sacred and secular, we aren’t paying any attention to the Peter/Cornelius story in Acts 10. We are easily seduced by the subtle temptations to think some things are clean while other things are unclean.
Too much of how we live in the name of Christianity can be labeled secular, unclean, profane – even those things we want desperately to be seen as sacred. Too much of what Christians say and do are poor reminders that we are in the presence of God. I’m deeply sad to admit that.
But I’m also sure we are always in God’s presence. We fail to recognize that too much of the time. We are conditioned to think God is only present when we think God is present. Fortunately, God is never restricted by what we think. What a sacred moment when we realize that.
The Rev. Paul Graves, a Sandpoint resident and retired United Methodist minister, is the founder of Elder Advocates. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.