Sacred vs. Secular

Here’s a question…help me out here:  we use the terms “sacred” and “secular” to categorize certain events, phenomenon, and experiences.   Skipping the obvious, that these can be helpful categories in distinguishing various lens’ by which we see the world, how do you define, and differentiate between, “sacred” and “secular”?  Are they helpful distinctions, or should we get rid of them?   Is this, as some suggest, a false dichotomy?  If we say, as God did to Moses, “This is holy ground,”  what do we mean?  Can ground be secular one moment, and suddenly become “holy” simply because we call it so?  We call moments holy and sacred.   We take spaces, and whether it’s with a simple series of lines, or through a series of massive and costly constructions, we mark them off in some way and call them churches, or shrines, or monuments.   If a body is buried under the ground on which we stand, our sense of space and being changes radically.   Birth, death, marriage, sex, art, music, suffering…all of these (and far more) become vehicles through which the holy approaches the mundane, transforming normal realities into shimmering unforgettables.

What makes an act “sacred?”  Passover and the Eucharist are meals, and we eat and drink much as we do anytime, but something marks them as ceremonial and special.   We shower and bathe on the morning of our baptism, and what is the difference in the event?  In art, we paint still lifes and crosses, mountains and biblical scenes, nudes and icons…which is holy and why?  You are a song writer who loves the sensuality of life and the ethereal touch of God–what do you write, and where do you take the work?

What I’m really wondering here is not only how you might answer such questions, but I’d love to know what leads you to your conclusions.   Books that you’ve read?   A simple feeling that seems uncontestable simply because it is your feeling?  A mentor that told you a particular was true and seemed to live it so completely that you bought it hook, line, and sinker?

Point me to the truth, here, folks…

Is this a sacred conversation we’re having here, or are we just jawing in that secular way?

9 Comments

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  1. Maybe where there is a spark of some kind …..is holy.

    • A spark…I like that. What’s the spark? Knowing you, sparks are always flying, yes? But I guess I wonder if the “whole earth is full of His glory,” maybe sparks are everywhere, always, and we just don’t seem them much…

  2. James 1 says that every good and perfect gift comes from God. It is possible that we have tried to categorize too much, to draw lines where they need not be. Secular vs sacred? I don’t know. I believe that all things began as good and were twisted in the fall, therefore all things have the potential to be sacred. If only they can regain their original state. Humans were sacred, and we fell, through Christ we regain the nature God intended for us in the first place (even though we continue to battle the sin nestled inside us). Music is sacred, it is a gift, yet humanity can twist it with foul language and meaning into something ugly. Then it becomes something else. We tend to classify every song that isn’t “religious” or created by “christian artists” as secular. I disagree. I have felt as close to God at at John Mayer concert as I have in church. Maybe that is sacrilegious to some, but I don’t think so. I wonder if religious people created those words to make themselves feel safe, to feel like that had something tangible to hang on to, and label they could place on whatever it was they didn’t like that day to say to the world, stay away, this is bad. I eschew the titles of secular and sacred and instead look for the goodness of God in everything.

    • So you reject the “secular” and the “sacred.” Okay. Then how do we account for those moments that definitely feel “heightened?” It seems unquestionable that there are moments that seem pretty different that the everyday and the mundane. Space we walk into in which the very air seems to shimmer and call us to silence. What is happening in those moments, and how is the goodness of God present in those “holy” moments (even the John Mayer concert) differentiated from the goodness of God in the normal?

  3. Jeff, maybe we could get a clearer answer if we asked: “What part of Jesus’ life on earth was sacred, and what part was secular?” Was the time He spent in synagogue more sacred than the time He walked through the fields of grain with his disciples? Was His death on the cross sacred or secular? Is the life of your friend more sacred than that of your enemy?

    • Good question. But if we ask about his humanity, I don’t think we can assume his every waking moment was sacred simply because he was the Son of God. Of course the crucifixion is sacred…we’d all agree there. The friend/enemy comment is arresting, but it sweeps across the conversation is a general way that doesn’t really cut to the sacred/secular tension of our own lives. But I do think you’re hinting at something important. You’re suggesting that all is sacred. Yes?

  4. Jenny, I want to explore the way things “got twisted in the fall”……what is this concept? Why is this piece of mythology the foundation for everything we believe?…I think of to(fall) in love.

    Thomas Moore’s “Care of the Soul” was a big breakthrough book for me. It’s based on Jungian…
    And the next one of his, “Soul mates.” It’s all about listening. And then there’s Descartes, and my husband,
    and Jeff and my family..;-)

    I’m not totally sure about what I meant by the spark. I think any place can be holy. You never know when something’s gonna happen! But to be open, and that is why we should all SLOW DOWN. breathe.

    here’s a link to my new elephant journal photojournal.
    I’m advocating walking and listening! haha!
    Please come and comment!
    http://www.elephantjournal.com/2010/09/skate-supernatural-love-god-keha-yn/

    • Hey, Joana,

      The fall, as in the fall of man (humanity). Eve and the fruit, etc. My own suspicions are that the theological implications of the Genesis story are more nuanced than we’ve thought, and the get-back-to-the-garden-and-what-was-meant-to-be story may not be the story God is interested in.

      Interesting that you bring up Thomas Moore and the Jungian stuff. I ran into that material in the early 90’s and it nearly de-railed me in about a zillion ways. It’s cool stuff, and I love the way it elevates intuitive life and makes us listen deeply, as you say, but it sure seems like it holds the door wide open for all manner of selfishness. At least it did for me. It remains a quandry for me to know how to hold on to that deeply intuitive leading yet not go off the rails in my marriage and other relationships just because I “need” something, however profound it seems to me at the time.

      That being said, I love much of Hillman, Moore, and Jung have to say.

      And I love your photojournal. It’s so you. And I’m with you about walking. Love it, love it, love it…

      Thanks for checking in…

  5. Some of what I am pondering is that all life is sacred because it was created by God. The fact that it is desecrated by sin doesn’t make it any less holy or less loved by God. I think Jesus didn’t die for our sins so much as because He loves us in spite of our sins. John 3:16 comes to mind.

    Thank you for challenging us to think.

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