Re-employing the Sacred | June 12, 2022 by Rev. Dr. Dorsey Blake
To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wildflower
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.
– William Blake
I stated last week that the founders of this nation with all their flaws explicitly expressed in the last sentence of the Declaration of Independence their reliance on Divine Providence for strength, wisdom, and guidance. With assurance of this reality, they were able to pledge to each other their lives, fortunes, and sacred Honor. There was accountability built into this enormous endeavor to separate from an empire that exploited them to establish a new nation. The accountability was to each other and to the ever-present presence that undergirded all that existed, that held the universe and cosmic order together. They acknowledged a spiritual power behind their existence and personal responsibilities.
I did not sense a similar presence in the consciousness of those who stormed the United States Capitol on January 6, 2021. I saw a “blood of Jesus” sign; but nothing of humility and sacred trust. I did feel a sense of sacred duty in Representatives Liz Cheney and Bennie Thompson as they revealed to the nation a chilling, deliberate plot orchestrated by former President Trump to create anarchy and undermine democracy.
As I reflected the day after the initial hearing of the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol, I realized that I longed for a nation of honor, a nation that honors each other – one that does not profane the natural beauty of the nation’s landscape or the beauty of its people. I remember growing up in our home church in Liberty, Missouri. It was my father’s first pastorate. The people called themselves sisters or brothers: Sister Mitchell, Brother Hopes, Sister Hines, Brother Houston or Aunt Gertie, Aunt Ella, Uncle Howard, Uncle Sammy. This sense of kinship was a call to respect as well as accountability and responsibility. All were family, community, connected. There was a feeling of sacred companionship in those worship services and on the streets. I recall that I did not feel the same depth of relationship when we moved to Kansas City for my father’s next pastorate. I certainly liked the congregation and thoroughly enjoyed the services. But people were Mr., Mrs., Miss. Those titles were not as warm for me or my extended soul. I was also coming more into my own “rational,” intellectual self and maybe that accounted for some of the distancing inhibiting my relational self.
The sacred is not formal. It is that in which the commonplace rests. There is a transcendent quality about it that speaks that there is more than meets the eye, that the invisible is real and is essential to existence. It goes beyond the five senses, the observable. It is why I get chills when I hear a recording of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., giving his I Have A Dream speech. Something physical happens to my body as well as my soul. I do not think this is caused merely by the words. I don’t have a similar experience just reading the words. It’s when I hear his voice that carries with it his embodiment that affects my body. My consciousness journeys to his willing sacrifice of life while trusting Divine Providence. The chills are a way of reawakening his prophetic call and challenge to me. The experience is related to what Zen Buddhists label as seeing with the “third eye.” The “third eye” sees what the two other eyes cannot see. It sees the invisible. It sees illumination in and from the invisible. It sees through the illusions to unveil the real.
Could we recognize and celebrate the sacred in all our concerns, our coming in and going out? Could all our thoughts and actions to contribute to reclaiming the sacred.
And Jacob went out from Beer-sheba, and went toward Haran. And he lighted upon the place, and tarried there all night, because the sun was set; and he took one of the stones of the place, and put it under his head, and lay down in that place to sleep. And he dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven; and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it.
And Jacob awaked out of his sleep, and he said: 'Surely the LORD is in this place; and I knew it not.' And he was afraid, and said: 'How full of awe is this place! this is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.' And Jacob rose up early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put under his head, and set it up for a pillar, and poured oil upon the top of it. And he called the name of that place Beth-el, but the name of the city was Luz at the first. – Genesis 28:10-19
Materially, the place was the same as before the dream. The stone was just a stone. After the experience, the stone was a pillar anointed with oil. The place was given a new name Beth-el, the house of God.
We don’t pay much attention to how the bread is made, how the wine is harvested. We pay too high supermarket prices for them. They are just bread and wine; but, when infused with replaying the last night Jesus shared with his disciples, they become a sacred welcoming to the table and banquet. The ordinary is no longer ordinary. The commonplace is no longer commonplace.
Dr. Thurman reminds us:
There must be always remaining in everyone's life some place for the singing of angels, some place for that which in itself is breathlessly beautiful, and by an inherent prerogative, throws all the rest of life into a new and creative relatedness, something that gathers up in itself all the freshets of experience from drab and commonplace areas of living and glows in one bright white light of penetrating beauty and meaning—then passes. The commonplace is shot through with new glory; old burdens become lighter, deep, and ancient wounds lose much of their old, old hurting. A crown is placed over our heads that for the rest of our lives we are trying to grow tall enough to wear. Despite all the crassness of life, despite all the hardness of life, despite all the harsh discords of life, life is saved by the singing of angels.
Even if we haven’t had the experience, we can imagine stones becoming pillars, new names to take us into the future, singing of angels to lighten and brighten the path, the commonplace becoming glorious, crowns being placed over our heads, beckoning us to grow tall enough for them to fit snuggly.
John S. Mbiti helps me to comprehend on a deep plane the lack of separation of the sacred and profane in traditional African religions and philosophies. His book enlightens readers about traditional African concepts and practices prior to colonialism. He describes some of the foundations of African life. One foundation was the idea that the sacred undergirded all of life. It is therefore the organizing principal of life. There is not dogma or theology. Rather it is the assimilation of concepts and beliefs passed down by ancestors mingled with nuances for each historical situation: the past respecting and molding the present with its particular demands and peculiar needs. Even the marketplace is suffused with religion. There is no formal distinction between the material and spiritual, the sacred and secular, the religious and the non-religious. It was common, therefore, to implore the agents of the sacred whenever a fracture was introduced into an individual life or the life of the community. That is why oblations are poured before ceremonies to invite the presence of the ancestors who have gone before us and experienced life prior to parting to be present in the ceremony, lending their presence, guidance, and sustainability. To be alive is to be part of a community and to participate in cosmic connection. The community’s way of living is utmost, its health and peace. The individual finds health and peace through the health and peace of the community. There is unshakable faith that the Supreme God and its agents work for wholeness for the community.
I wish leaders in our society could embrace this understanding of wholeness, community, and the sacredness of life embedded in all manifestations of life. The whole of our community, society, nation is sacred and must be related to as such. If this does not seem real, then we must believe it into reality by the way we trust the movement of the spirit of life, the spirit of God as it comes unto us and seeks to be viable in the world through us. There is metastatic evil that is rampant and must be taken seriously and treated with most effective treatment we can imagine.
Let us imagine a healthy body politic. That is a beginning, an important beginning, but not the end. What would that vision require of us?
I stated earlier that I feel something when I hear Dr. King recite the I Have a Dream speech.
Feeling is necessary. Emotions carry ideas that are subterranean yet more real than what we can articulate. We must remember that for those who stormed the capitol, their world is dying. They cannot grasp the new world because our new world of sacred vitality and love is not yet born. Living for it with all our heart, mind, soul, strength, and courage will give us the “alive” lives that Dr. Thurman says the world needs so desperately. Rubem Alves describes this as “transformation of our vision of the world, in which things are integrated as in a melody. It makes us feel reconciled with the universe around us – possessed by an oceanic feeling in the poetic expression of Romaine Rolland. It is an ineffable sensation of eternity and infinitude, of communion with something that transcends us, involves us, and enwraps us, as if it were a maternal uterus of cosmic dimensions.