For centuries we have lived with the idea that life is divided into spheres of sacred and secular, religious and worldly, holy and profane.
Partitioning things that way in our heads has led to ideas like “my personal spiritual life” and “my public business life.” Thus we have debated whether politicians or athletes should ever have their fitness measured by some moral shortcoming or terrible relationship failure in their “private” lives. The consensus seems to be that there is no necessary connection between the two.
We talk about the “sacred space” we experience in a cathedral or church sanctuary, at a retreat center or particularly breathtaking spot in nature. The store or office or den is, one must presume, “secular space” for us.
So we have created a religious environment in much of Christiandom that allows people to participate in church as pious, reverent members on Sunday morning – while being racist, lecherous, greedy, and materialistic the other six and a half days of the week! Church is sacred. The other settings are secular. Where did we get such absurd notions of the nature of reality?
Life is continuous from church pew to classroom to golf course. There is a single narrative from Bible class to workplace to football stadium. Each of us is weaving a holistic tapestry with innermost thought to words from the tongue to behavior in unguarded moments. How naive to argue otherwise.
The late Abraham Heschel used to raise this question: Is it an artist’s inner vision or her grappling with stone that creates a brilliant piece of sculpture? The point of his question was to say that upright living is like a work of art. It is the outcome of both an inner vision and a struggle with very concrete situations.
“No religious act is properly fulfilled unless it is done with a willing heart and a craving soul,” Heschel said. “You cannot worship God with your body if you do not know how to worship him with your soul.” And vice versa, one might add.
A spiritual exercise such as prayer or Bible reading or fasting is not meant to be seen as an end in itself. We obey God not for the sake of achieving or earning but to keep our hearts open to him and responsive to his voice.
All space – cathedral, sickroom, factory, mountain lake, office cubicle, car, sidewalk, jail cell – is sacred to God. Meant to be a place from which he may be sought and found. Dedicated to his glory by the use we make of it.
If God is with us and in us, how could any space be other than sacred?
by Rubel Shelly; reprinted from his Fax of Life