Monday, September 18, 2006

Sacred and secular

"No distinction was made between the sacred and the everyday...their life was all one piece. It was all sacred and all ordinary." ` Sue Bender ~ author of Plain and Simple

There is, of course, a sense in which this sentiment is admirable. Surely every aspect of life should be brought joyfully under the lordship of Christ, every thought captive to His obedience. This attitude was one of the great strengths of the Puritans, and a legacy that we are still mining.

The basis of Western scientific inquiry is the insistence that God created and sustains the material world, not just the "spiritual", and that material things reflect His orderly and utterly faithful character. In other words, we can perform a scientific experiment and expect to be able to replicate it, to find consistency in the behavior of material things, because their being is sustained by a faithful, consistent Creator. So in some sense, a distinction between sacred and secular would hamper our secular inquiries into truth.

This removal of the distinction between sacred and secular has given us a respect for the value of every kind of work. We recognize the dignity of every calling, not just the calling to a specifically Christian vocation. In fact, one of the descriptions of the New Jerusalem is that ordinary work right down to cooking pots and horse harnesses will proclaim holiness to the Lord (Zech. 14:20-21). So our eternal destiny calls us to shape our daily work on the model of God's divine work.

But this removal of the sacred/secular distinction has its downside. If everything is sacred, is anything special? If everything is sanctified, can anything be properly used for common service? Or is it that nothing is sacred?

Certainly the modern trend in worship is to make everything casual, entertaining, accessible to anyone and everyone. In a word, secular. Throwing frisbees might be just as appropriate in one of these services as prayer. Come to think of it, it might BE a prayer.

Marriage isn't sacred anymore either. It is just another pleasant association like dozens of others you could name. It doesn't need special protection or consideration any more than your friendship with the waitress at the local diner or your rapport with your family doctor. Marriage is simply an ordinary contract offered and withdrawn at will.

On the other hand, everything in the natural world is becoming sacred. Animals, trees, oceans, you name it. Nothing can be touched or tampered with. It is holy. It cannot be used for ordinary purposes like food, clothing, shelter, and such.

We need to learn how to de-sanctify things to their primary purposes. And we need to remember how to hold the truly sacred things apart for their special uses.

It is interesting in this context to reflect on Abraham's custom during his wanderings in Canaan, after God had promised that land to Abraham's descendents. Wherever Abraham camped, he dug a well near a venerable tree and held worship there. Essentially, he was de-sanctifying that land from its pagan gods and establishing a holy space for the worship of YHWH. Centuries later, Abraham's descendents did inherit that land, worshipping YHWH in a sacred space that was a glorified oasis: pillars like tree trunks loaded with gold and tapestry fruit, and a huge laver so big it was called a "sea".

We need to become skilled in distinguishing what should remain distinctly sacred or secular in order to rightly understand how secular things can be elevated and ennobled in service to or in imitation of the sacred. But not AS sacred.

So find the Tree of Life and dig a well. Reclaim history and creation for its proper use. Let the streams of living water flow from that well to restore the world to its proclamation of its Creator's glory.


Amydeanne said...

wow. A lot of things I didn't think about. So true. I love your view on this. Thanks for posting! I've got lots to chew on from this!

Anonymous said...

Dear Kim,
What a terrific blog and a garden of resources for me to dig through. When I grow up, I wanna be like you!
One of your links in the right column has been hi-jacked. There was no private way to notify you about it or I would have.
Teri in Great Falls


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