I would like to start this morning’s homily with a question that I would like us all to ask ourselves…
“What is Sacred?” Many of us will be at a loss as to how to answer that question. We have evolved as a society to a point where we do not think about sacredness. We have become a society that is too busy for things that are “sacred”.
The American Heritage Dictionary defines the word sacred as:
Dedicated to or set apart for the worship of Deity.
Worthy of religious veneration.
Made or declared holy.
Dedicated to or devoted exclusively to a single use, purpose, or person
Worthy of respect.
Of, or relating to religious objects, rites, or practices.
But more importantly… What is sacred to you (and me)? Many of us aren’t comfortable or even familiar with the word “sacred” (along with other terms which have a strong dogmatic connotation). Those of us who were raised in a less than positive religious environment, often try to repress those aspects of our upbringing now that we are adults, and have been able to choose a more tolerant and inclusive spiritual path for ourselves.
Several years ago in Colorado, I was having dinner with some friends from our Unitarian fellowship. The discussion turned to how some of us weren’t particularly comfortable with the word “Christian”, even though we were raised as Christians and can still find words of love, truth, and tolerance in the teachings of Jesus. If we strip away the dogma, control, and intolerance perpetrated by some religious institutions, there are valuable lessons to be learned. In an effort to separate ourselves from those aspects it is far too easy to take words such as: “church”, “prayer” and “sacred”, and deem them too dogmatic for our purposes, and to “put them away”, so to speak. Some of us have been fortunate in finding earth centered belief systems, which do celebrate the sacredness in many forms. But, as a whole, what do we really consider sacred? Do we actually think about sacredness in our every day lives?
The first form of sacredness, and unfortunately the most prevalent in our society is what I refer to as “detached sacredness”, the objects or buildings that humans have declared “sacred”, yet most of us may not feel a deep personal connection to: A Crucifix, The Holy Grail, A vessel of holy water on a church alter, and many other ritual items… Jerusalem, Mecca, and the Vatican… Books such as the Bible, the Koran, and The Torah… They may hold symbolism and great meaning for us, but they may not “speak to us”, or be part of our everyday lives. These are not things that we have chosen, but are things that others have chosen for us, and told us that we are to hold sacred.
The next form of sacredness is “sacred space”. When I speak of sacred space, I’m not referring to buildings, monuments, and alters built and declared sacred or holy by others, but places that we personally feel more spiritual and at peace. These are the places that do call to us. I have been blessed in my life to have lived in numerous National Parks, forests, and wilderness areas. I have experienced a multitude of sacred places in nature: A little Island, on a wilderness lake, where my husband, daughter and I chose to have our wedding ceremony, a grove of Giant Sequoias in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, The Colorado River Canyons, The Black Hills of South Dakota and the Indian Canyons in Palm Springs. The last two examples are places that both called to me, and have been declared sacred places by Native American Indians. They aren’t sacred to me because of those “designations”, but because of the energy and feelings I experience when I’m there.
In the “real world”, we can’t just travel to a mountain stream, canyon, or forest whenever we feel the need to recharge. We can however, create our own sacred space in our homes or offices. A photo, sea shell, stone, or other object with a special meaning in our workspace can remind us of what is sacred to us when dealing with the day to day stress and annoyances.
In every home I’ve had as an adult, I have an altar. To my more conservative friends, it just looks like a rock collection. To me it’s a sacred space. It contains: a sand dollar one of my friends brought back from Mexico, a cone from a Giant Sequoia tree, a soapstone carving I traded for some of my own artwork at a pow wow, stones and crystals that have special meaning, or just gave me a good buzz when I picked them up, feathers I have found on my journeys, and a healing stone, given to me by a friend who is a breast cancer survivor, when I was in the hospital with a fractured spine and pelvis. The amazing thing about my collection is that it’s the first thing people are drawn to, when they enter the room. . Even if they only think it’s a “rock collection”, they know (and feel) that there is something special about it. The dashboard of my truck is a sacred (and messy) space, containing many natural objects that make my truck a little “rolling altar”. I used to keep a thick sleeping bag in front of my wood stove in my Park Service house in Colorado, where I loved to sit by the fire to read, nap, sip hot cocoa, or visit with friends. This is one of my all time favorite sacred spaces. The point is, that anywhere you feel, relaxed, comfortable, reflective, and at peace is and can be a sacred space.
The next, and in my opinion, most neglected form of sacredness is “sacred ritual”. Ritual has historically (and prehistorically) been a way for humans to celebrate and honor that which is sacred. Ritual has been and is considered vital for the well being and the very survival of both aboriginal and modern societies. Those of us who have ever endured 2 ½ hour hours on hard wooden pew doing the “sit stand and kneel” thing at a mass or wedding, may consider ritual painful rather than a joyful expression, but that is a narrow view that we need to reconsider. The sweat lodge for purification and prayer, and Sun Dance to sacrifice for the people, the Bear Dance to welcome spring and the protection of the awakening bear spirit, are sacred rituals to native peoples. Drawing down the moon, casting a circle, calling the quarters, and celebrations of life cycles, are but a few sacred rituals for Wiccan/Celtic peoples. Every culture has had some (or many) forms of ritual as a way of expressing spirituality, conceitedness, and to strengthen social bonds.
The need for ritual is as important today as it was thousands of years ago. Perhaps it is even more important to a technology-based society that, for so long, has been detached from its aboriginal roots. What many of us tend to overlook is personal rituals, which may seem so mundane to us, that we participate in them every day and don’t even realize that they are rituals.
My personal (and most necessary) daily ritual is “The sacred morning coffee ritual”. Coffee in many cultures is considered a ritual tool and sacred, but that’s beside the point. It’s important to me, and darn it, it’s my ritual! Anyone who has ever spent any time with me at all, knows that I am a zealot when it comes to the “sacred coffee ritual”. I must have 30-45 minutes in the morning for my “sacred coffee time”. This is my quiet time to unwind, reflect, and prepare myself for the day. Often, other people who recognize the sacredness and importance of the ritual are invited to join. But, there is nothing in my opinion quite so sacrilegious as a “non believer” jumping up and down saying, “Come on, let’s get going, we’re burning daylight.” Those people are banished from future rituals. If I don’t have the ritual time, it can set a very negative tone for my entire day (as well as those who are forced to deal with me). Don’t even think about expecting me to drink instant. I will drive as far as necessary to acquire what I need for the ritual. I buy good beans, and grind them fresh. Life is too short to drink bad coffee, and that would disrespect the ritual. Sometimes the ritual is moved to another location due to travel or circumstances beyond my control. I have had to partake of the ritual while responding to an early morning emergency, in my park ranger days. Speeding along steep, narrow mountain and canyon roads, red lights and sirens blaring, one hand firmly clutching the plastic travel mug containing the sacred beverage. You do what you have to do. More often, it might relocate to a friend’s house, a campsite (where I bring along my plastic french press, and a zip lock baggie of the good stuff), or even at a coffee shop or restaurant. Another sacrilege against the sacred ritual is the “disruption of the cream and sugar balance”. The sacred beverage is mixed and blended at just the right level, and then some “non believer” comes and pours more hot coffee into your cup, forever disrupting the delicate balance. They really don’t mean any harm. To them, it’s “just a cup of coffee”.
Other personal rituals may be: watching the sunrise/sunset, spending quiet times with loved ones, creating art or music, writing, dancing, reading, taking a bath, expressing physical love with your partner, playing with a child, taking an evening or morning walk, or just taking a few minutes of quiet time to center and come back into balance. The most important sacred ritual is to laugh. As the sacred clowns of the pueblo people demonstrate, only when we are able to recognize and laugh at our own weaknesses, are we truly in balance. Only when we learn to appreciate these things as sacred, rather than something we “just do”, can we reap the full personal and spiritual benefits.
My challenge to all of us, is to recognize and cherish that which is sacred in our lives… To make time for our rituals which are so important to our well being both personally and as a society, and to recognize them as truly important and sacred.
So May it Be…