Finding the Sacred
For centuries, spirituality and religion have been synonyms for each other; today, they are excuses to refrain one from the other. What is their connection? The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines spirituality as “the state or art of being”. Ohio State University’s Wellness Center upholds: “Spirituality, while it doesn’t necessarily solve or reach conclusions, often embraces the concept of searching and moving forward in the direction of meaning, purpose, and direction for your life.” They most emphatically point out that spirituality is not religion and deem it essential for a student’s well-being. What is religion? Merriam-Webster defines it as “an organized system of beliefs, ceremonies, and rules used to worship a god or a group of gods”. Yet, it further states that spirituality is a quality of being religious and that religion is an interest or belief that is very important to a person.
Recently it has become trendy to state that one is more spiritual than religious. Defining how that plays out in their lives, though, is more difficult to portray and statistics reflect this. Many claim to be spiritual in order to have an identity. Some admit to listing a religious affiliation to avoid conflict and accept being classified as an atheist instead of “nothing”. After all, who among us what’s to be considered “nothing”? For me spirituality is that which enhances or develops my soul. It can be a nurturing feeling, a touch, something visual, something heard; always something I experience. Religion is more definite. It is an organized system of beliefs, positive beliefs. Society views having spirit to be full of life; to have religion as being dogmatic, restrictive; spirit has spark; religion is dull.
The religion of our forefathers came to us, regardless of which religion, from a meme, a meme being an idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture. It spread from person to person and then to a culture. We adopt our religion because of our faith in it. Today’s generations want something that speaks to their spirit and is not just a tradition. They want to live it, as all have been commanded, again regardless of which religion, and not just recite words at a given time. They want life to be a passionate experience. They want religion to touch their spirituality and recognize that we are all unique creatures, to be valued for our diversity – again, something recognized in most religions.
What is sacred, though? What has real meaning for us? Walk through a mall and teenagers seem to hold their smart phones as sacred. Police reports are full of people who will willingly give up their wallets and purses before their electronic devices. Do we guard our beliefs just as intensely? I was challenged some time back to take inventory of what I held sacred: [The yardstick for measuring the sacredness of an object was not its cost but my attachment to it.] “Assuming you can carry an object regardless of its weight and size, and knowing you only had ten minutes to save these objects or people, in three minutes list what you would choose to save.” I completed my list and realized I had omitted half of my closet, actually almost all of my closet and artwork on the walls. Pieces of furniture that had sentimental meaning were on my list but I had listed my computer storage of pictures, not the actual pictures hanging on the wall. I had a fraction of my books, family, and pets but not my beloved (or so I thought) purses or shoes or even clothes. Artwork painted by friends and myself were left hanging on walls, although art supplies did make the list of things to take.
What I considered to be meaningful surprised me. Of course, clothes are necessary and I hope I would be better prepared to pack rationally as well as sentimentally but it is as interesting exercise. An avid reader I would have expected that I’d take books but I also enjoy fiber arts and I had none of those supplies on my list. Important papers are kept in our emergency cache in our “safe” closet and those were first on my list as were books about religion and living. There were the recreational books but I was happy to see I included some nonfiction as well. Several weeks after completing the exercise I went shopping with a friend and just as I started to gush over a new handbag, I stopped. Apparently I really wasn’t as into them as I thought since none made my list. I realized at that moment just what I considered sacred and none of it was inside that department store.
Spirituality is a sea on which my soul can sail. Religion is my compass. We should not continue to use one as an excuse to keep the other from being effective. The best evangelism is that which speaks to the soul and nourishes the heart. We cannot insist that all hearts be one color, one fashion, one size. Religion must realize that mankind is diverse; its spirit accepted. Accountable theology needs a living spirit – nourished not starved, accepted and loved. Accountable living needs sacred spaces.
Throughout this series we will seek out what we hold to be meaningful and sacred and how to find those sacred moments in our everyday living. We will not all hold the same things to be sacred but then, we are not all the same. In fact, we are all unique. For me, moments of solitude are sacred. I shut out the noise of twenty-first century living and center on being in the moment. Finding the sacred can be just as simple as sitting in a quiet space. It can also be a vacant lot. Several blocks from my home is such a lot. Owned by a neighborhood church, the lot is bare except for a simple lectern of sorts and four benches arranged in amphitheatre style. There are no other adornments and I have never seen anyone present. It is a sacred place for me and I have stopped and sat, pondering the leaves blowing gently above my head or simply just being.
There are many beautiful places of meaning on our planet but you have some closer to home, I am certain. Walk out your door tomorrow and seek the sacred in your own life. You might be surprised at what really holds meaning for you. “Every day we do things, we are things that have to do with peace. If we are aware of our life, our way of looking at things, we will know how to make peace right in the moment we are alive,” says spiritualist Thich Nhat Hanh. Religion should be spiritual and the spirituality of our beings should reflect our beliefs. It is the sacred, however, that truly tells the story. Joseph Campbell explains: “Your sacred space is where you can find yourself over and over again.”