Most of us have had them at some point. Maybe you cannot eat strawberries or take certain medications. If you are like most of mankind, you also have seasonal allergies. The human body has built-in defense systems. They are marvelous creations of both design and evolution. Unlike military defense systems which can kill both target and user, the body’s defense systems target specific intruders without harming the host.
Of course, we don’t generally think of our bodies as defense systems. Instead, we call that part of our being our bodies’ ability to produce natural antibodies. Antibodies are those cells that attack the intruder and continue our well-being. Vaccinations encourage the production of antibodies; that is their purpose and function. Man has greatly increased his lifespan by inventing such vaccinations and while a very small minority might suffer side effects from them, vaccinations do save lives and should not be feared or distrusted. [Parents should be diligent in exploring and educating themselves on their family history of health, however, so that their doctor has a clear picture of how the vaccination might affect a small child or adult.]
Allergies become present when our bodies misidentify an intruder and assume something is harmful when it generally is not, at least to most of the general population. The Mayo Clinic website describes an allergic reaction this way: “An allergy starts when your immune system mistakes a normally harmless substance for a dangerous invader. The immune system then produces antibodies that remain on the alert for that particular allergen. When you’re exposed to the allergen again, these antibodies can release a number of immune system chemicals, such as histamine, that cause allergy symptoms.”
Make a date to meet an old friend in the park, sit down on the park bench when both arrive and start your conversation this way: “Let’s discuss theology!” I guarantee you that you will most likely create an allergic reaction of sorts. Your friend might not start sneezing or break out in hives, but odds are, there will be some stammering, looking at the watch or time on their phone, and suddenly the friend will remember a pressing engagement that requires an immediate departure.
Our series is about finding the sacred in the everyday and yet, while it sounds great, most of us would never really start a conversation about it…or about theology….or even spirituality. How are we going to find something we run away from or are too shy to consider? Do we have an allergy to that which is sacred? Doctors will tell you that if there is a family history of allergies, then one is more likely to have them. DO we overlook the sacred because of inherited lifestyles or priorities? Children are also more at risk for allergies than adults although the allergy may disappear as the child ages. Some feel this is due to an immature immune system while others feel one gains tolerance to a substance as one ages and the body adapts. All agree that having one allergy increases the risk of another.
IF we are taught to live our lives negatively, always expecting the worse and focusing on all that is wrong or could go wrong, then we will have a hard time believing in the sacred, much less identifying it. To assume all is lost, though, would be wrong. Mankind was not born knowing how to use computers or even how to use the bathroom. We learn more in the first five years of life than we do in the rest of our lives. We learn to speak, to comprehend a heretofore unknown language; how to flex and use our fingers, arms, legs, and bodies; how to interpret other people’s facial expression and body language; how to sit, walk, skip, run, and sometimes even stand still. Life is a skill and we can learn to live it in a positive fashion regardless of our inherited dispositions. We can learn to see the sacred and value it.
When it comes to living, we are all children. Even the oldest of us still has much to learn. The marvels of modern architecture pale in comparison to the buildings from antiquity so clearly, we still have much to learn as far as spacial constructs, balance, and construction are concerned. We also build lives and in that we also have a lot to learn. We may grow old and mature but we never reach the point of knowing everything.
Gaining tolerance might be the very hardest skill of all to acquire regarding having an allergy to that which is sacred. Tolerance requires us to be exposed to things that take us outside our comfort zones. Tolerance requires we be exposed to people and conditions that are foreign to us and that can be very scary. The people and conditions are not always life-threatening; in fact, they seldom are. What we protest is feeling uncomfortable and not being sure what to do. The answer is to simply do as we would want done. If you are about to shake the hand of a stranger wearing clothing that is unknown to you, think how you would feel. Would you want stares or a smile? Tolerance is the least strenuous skill and yet, is also the least lived.
We act as if we have an allergy to those who are not our clones, forgetting that no one really is just exactly like us. We share many things in common with family, friends, those in our own area or lands but we are unique individuals. There is no one exactly like us. We forget and become fearful when really, we need to realize they pose no threat to us. Writer Lloyd Shearer widely wrote: ““Resolve to be tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving, and tolerant of the weak and the wrong. Sometime in life you will have been all of these.”
George Orwell, famous for his book about the future “1984”, summed it up succinctly: “Happiness can exist only in acceptance.” When we realize that that which is strange is not intruding on our lifestyles, then we no longer have an allergy to life and can see the sacred. To paraphrase the pop star Lady Gaga, acceptance, tolerance and love feed a community. They illustrate the sacred in our lives.