>The Sacred and the Secular
>I am currently taking a church history seminar focusing on the history of the Church in the United States. We are looking at the Puritans at the moment, and they are a thoroughly interesting people. They are generally nothing like the stereotypical image we receive through history classes and reading “The Scarlet Letter” or “The Crucible.” I find myself admiring these people and being astonished at the impact that their practices and beliefs have had on the contemporary church in America. One of these influences stems from their view on the sacred and the secular. Unlike the Roman Catholic church on the European continent which tended to highlight somethings such as the sacraments and the altar as sacred, the Puritans held a view in which all things were sacred. They expected to meet God in their milk-barns just as they met him in their church buildings. They saw the opportunity for household chores to be acts of worship. God created all things, and so all things were sacred.
Reading this brief bit of Puritan history sparked my interest because I have grown into my faith in a way that has seen all things as sacred, undoubtedly an influence being exerted on me by some of America’s earliest colonists. By and large I truly appreciate this view because it places so many things in the proper context. It assures me that when I especially feel God’s presence while camping I am truly being pointed to the Creator by sacred creation. It reminds me that in the midst of my mundane tasks and responsibilities, I can choose to do them in such a way that they will be transformed into the worship of almighty God. It helps me to look at the Church and see the priesthood of all believers. It provides the framework within which every moment can be a holy moment, consecrated by the God of the universe.
To say that this view is wholly positive, however, seems to miss some of its propensities toward error. For instance, I am tempted to look at Easter Sunday and ask why it is so important to celebrate the Lord’s resurrection that day. After all, that day is no more holy than any other day and I should be celebrating the resurrection of Christ every day. Unfortunately, this is unrealistic and gives me more credit than I am due. Perhaps some people could live up to this ideal, but I find it extremely difficult to truly celebrate the resurrection every day. There are some days, sadly, where the thought of that history-changing event never enters my mind. I am not capable of living as if every day is Easter. For this reason, I will try to return to a full-blown celebration of the resurrection on Easter Sunday. I am not giving up on celebrating my God’s victory over death every day, but I do not want to be robbed of the one day in particular in which I should give my thoughts and energy to that event.
Similarly, my view of the Lord’s Supper is not that of the good Catholic*. Although I also do not hold the bread and wine to be strictly symbolic and commemorative, my innate tendency is generally to view them as only representational. In that sense I might truly say that I hold the bread and wine of communion to be no more sacred than any other food. Unfortunately, in my commitment to the sacredness of all food I have given up the special sacredness of the elements of the Lord’s Supper. In this way I easily convert it into a simple ritual and remove its transformative qualities.
This last example stems from the Christian culture that I am immersed in. In my circles it is no longer allowed to refer to the musical part of the church service as “worship.” If you do so, it will quickly be pointed out that “everything is worship” and that we are denying our constant high calling to continuous worship by referring to that one time a week as worship. There is undoubtedly truth to this and I appreciate the sentiments represented by such gentle chastisements, but I think that they fail to live up to their spirit. Surely everything I do should be an act of worship, but this is simply not true of my life. Even at my best, when I am doing my homework as an act of worship, it is worship of a different quality. No doubt it is still an important and valuable form of worship, but my studies are done for various reasons. In singing at church, I really approach one of the few times in the week in which I am solely dedicating myself to the worship and contemplation of God. If I do the dishes for God, great, but whether or not I do them for God it is necessary that they be done. If my worship in church is not done for God then nothing of any value has been produced. I see no problem with referring to this act as “worship” as it is likely the most dedicated worship I offer to my Lord all week.
I do not reject the Puritan ideal of all things being sacred. I do not know how I could dispute that point. It does seem that a danger lies in not recognizing some things as more sacred, though, or perhaps the danger lies solely in the actual results often produced by such a view. Generally, when we point out that all things are sacred, we do not do so in a positive manner. We do not point out on Tuesday, “Today is a sacred day, let us dedicate ourselves to the Lord.” Instead on Sunday we say, “Today is no more sacred than any other day; do not superstitiously treat it differently.”
In Disney’s “The Incredibles” Helen Parr tells her son Dash that everyone is special, to which he replies, “Which is another way of saying no one is.” In the same way, it seems that in recognizing all things as sacred, we risk producing a worldview in which nothing is.
*For those not familiar with the theological positions on communion, Catholics believe in what is known as “transubstantiation.” This position holds that when the bread and wine (known as “the host” or “the elements”) are consecrated in Mass they actually become the real body and blood of Christ, although they still appear to be bread and wine to the senses. Protestant views tend to be “consubstantiation,” “spiritual presence,” and “symbolic.” Consubstantiation holds that the bread and wine remain bread and wine, but are infused with the presence of God just as a piece of metal in a fire remains a piece of metal but is infused with the heat and the light of the fire. Spiritual presence is similar and holds that in some way God is active in the act of taking communion. The symbolic view holds that the bread and wine are strictly memory aids that remind us of what Christ did for us on the cross.