Offering, Bribe, or Excuse?
Most children and all teachers soon become aware of the need to give a reason instead of an excuse. Although sometimes used as synonyms, there is a difference between the two words. Stating a reason for an action implies a sense of purpose. Giving an excuse means one is attempting to avoid consequences.
Someone asked why I had not spent time discussing the sacrifices almost all mythologies included. The reason is that I think we can find meaning and learn from even the most fantastical and ancient of mythologies. The sacrifices were almost always a means of people showing their interest and, to be quite honest, if someone has taken the time to read my blog, they have already shown some interest.
Today people are asked to attend their religious services instead of doing something else. There are plays and/or concerts to attend, television programs to view, footballs to go crazy over in attendance or by watching at home with your own private tailgating party. Today, the sacrifice of time is perhaps the most difficult sacrifice of all. In some instances the pilgrimages of olden times which could take almost half a year to complete were better attended than the local church service which takes less than thirty minutes driving time and an hour of attendance.
In 1725, The Reverence Frederick Lewis Donaldson gave a sermon during a service in Westminster Abbey in England. He described what he called the “Seven Social Sins” as “wealth without work, pleasure without conscience, knowledge without character, commerce without morality, science without humanity, worship without sacrifice, politics without principle.” I agree with Rev Donaldson’s assessment, especially the “worship without sacrifice” line item. I believe that there is a difference between having a belief and putting that belief into action which is the purpose of worship.
Sacrifice has indeed been considered universally to be a facet of religion. It is closely aligned with a great many mythologies of mankind. Such offerings included literal objects such as food or animals or figurative as in the cultures and spiritualities we studied last Advent, cultures that use representational objects, statues, or even water that has been blessed. These sacrifices are mentioned in all three Abrahamic religions and were intricately woven throughout Asian myths and history.
Chinese emperors often made sacrifices on the winter solstice representing their subjects and sacrifice is an integral part of the Zoroastrian fire ritual. Sacrifice is a focal point of Hindu tradition since life and the world both represent sacrifice, a sacrifice illustrated by the continual process of life and rebirth. Correct and continual ritual sacrifices are thought to ensure life.
G. K. Chesterton took sacrifice out of the temples, mosques, and churches and placed it in our everyday lives. “Every act of will is an act of self-limitation. To desire action is to desire limitation. In that sense, every act is an act of self-sacrifice. When you choose anything, you reject everything else.” Self-sacrifice is a touchy subject is our modern world where the emphasis is on “me” and less on community and the world. How we live and what we do, though, illustrate what we are willing to sacrifice. What may seem like a valid excuse to you when you say “I just did not have time!” becomes just another excuse to the person who interprets your comment as “You were not worth my time.”
Lao Tsu is noted for his disciplines and teachings which, to some, have become more spiritual tenets than life teachings. (And yes, I’d love to hear if you believe those two things are the same or different!) He famously offered this bit of wisdom: “If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading.” In other words, if we do not make the sacrifice of time to consider and make necessary changes, we will not flourish and nothing will really change.
A current philosopher, noted for his marketing strategies that have become quotes about living, Zig Ziglar puts things in basic analogies. “Motivation and bathing are not permanent. That’s why we need both every day.” We need to sacrifice our busy lives in order to gain motivation and wisdom to further those lives. We also need to value that which we have and care for it in order to have it flourish. Change is the essence of life and we must be willing to sacrifice without excuse and make an offering of our time, our energies, and our abilities. We must surrender today to gain tomorrow. We must surrender who we are in order to become who we might be. It is the ultimate sacrifice with the ultimate prize.