April 17, 2007

Sacred and Profane

I have thought a lot recently about the intertwining of the sacred and the profane in our lives, about how chaos can coexist with calmness. Of course it is not always as much coexistence as it is a sudden purging of one by the other, or of the wind that bodes no goodness seeking to extinguish the flame of our joy.

Not so long ago I was in my vehicle listening to Archimandrite Zacharias Zacharou’s very profound remarks on The Hidden Heart of Man (if you have heard any of Zacahrou’s talks you know just how deep he gets). In the background the seemingly ceaseless chatter of the radio provided a stark contrast. Traffic accidents, domestic disputes, routine violence served as background for, “The Awakening of the Heart by the Mindfulness of Death and the Moment of Death.”

There is probably not a more sacred time than when we pierce the veil on Pascha and join in with the eternal chorus in proclaiming Christ’s victory over death Then we enter into the glory of Bright Week when the whole world resounds with Christ risen. But even then lurks the mundane, the ever-encroaching blackness seeking to convince us we have no hope, that our faith has no firm foundation.

This past weekend I stood by the body of a woman who died from injuries sustained in an automobile accident. When I arrived she was lying on the side of the interstate on a backboard, wrapped in a sheet. Helping to put her in the hearse was an insignificant act, but it somehow felt sacred. It was right to help restore dignity to an undignified demise. To the people caught in the miles-long traffic jam, this was an aggravating delay. To us it was, unfortunately, not all that unordinary. To her family and her husband (who was driving the vehicle) it will be a day seared into their memory. A routine trip turned eternal.

Yesterday morning I drove my daughter to a three day learning field trip on one of the barrier islands. It was a wonderful time watching her rise to the challenge of spending three days away from Mom and Dad. I was thinking about how much I absolutely love her and how my love, no matter how intense or deep, is but a shadow of the love our Father has for us. Then upon my return to the office I saw the reports of the killings at Virginia Tech. Most of the victim’s parents had probably had moments like the one I just had. Now the anxiety and uncertainty would be devastating. The profane crashed into the sacred in a most violent way.

But I rejoice that it also works in the opposite direction. Even those who profess little or no faith have moments of sacredness thrust upon them, in the embrace of their child, in acts of unexpected kindness, in rainbows, in the consolation and true forgiveness the Pennsylvania Amish offered to the family of the man who murdered their children.

When the despair seems about to overpower me I remember that we are called to be the salt and the light, to season the world with our example and to bring the light of love and forgiveness to every dark corner of the world and of our hearts. When enveloped by the utter darkness of the deaths of 32 innocent people, we must shine brighter.

We live in a profane world edging closer everyday to being flooded by a tide of apathy, hatred and evil. We are called to stand in the breech. We do not have the right to hold grudges, to seek revenge, to hate those who hate us. With prayer, with love, with almsgiving, with forgiveness we must seek the sacred.

1 comment:

King of Peace said...

In his book, For the Life of the World, Fr. Alexander Schmemann wrote,

"Whether we 'spiritualize' our life or 'secularize' our religion, whether we invite men to a spiritual banquet or simply join them at a secular one, the real life of the world, for which we are told God gave his only-begotten Son, remains hopelessly beyond our religious grasp....

"So the only natural (and not 'supernatural') reaction of man, to whom God gave this blessed and sanctified world, is to bless God in return, to thank Him, to see the world as God sees it and—in this act of gratitude and adoration—to know, name and possess the world....

"It seems natural for man to experience the world as opaque and not shot through with the presence of God. It seems natural not to live a life of thanksgiving for God's gift of a world. It seems natural not to be eucharistic. The world is a fallen world because it has fallen away from the awareness that God is all in all. The accumulation of this disregard for God is the original sin that blights the world. And even the religion of this fallen world cannot heal or redeem it, for it has accepted the reduction of God to an area called 'sacred' ('spiritual' 'supernatural')—as opposed to the world as 'profane.' It has accepted the all-embracing secularism which attempts to steal the world away from God."