Theologian Matthew Fox was the last speaker at the Embrace conference we were just at in Portland. He said a number of things that struck me, but one of them was about a dream he had in which he heard a voice telling him that there is only one thing wrong with humanity – you have forgotten a sense of the sacred.
Given this definition, clearly all of life is sacred: nature, animals, creation, people, music, art, literature and so much more! And I think the voice in his dream must be correct. Humanity has forgotten a sense of the sacred. It is obvious in the way people treat one another and the environment.
(For the video version, click here.)
Or maybe we’re just like the disciples on the Emmaus road with Jesus after the crucifixion (Luke 24:13-35). They were so distracted by their own thoughts, the stories they were telling themselves about what happened, their own grief, confusion, fear and disappointment, that they completely missed the essence of the person who walked with them. They couldn’t see that Jesus was Jesus!
Aren’t we all like that? We get caught up in life, work, home, kids, parents, the news, and the stories we tell ourselves about all of those things, that we forget to recognize the sacredness of everything and everyone around us. Or sometimes I think we just plain don’t want to recognize it because clearly there are people around who can’t possibly be connected to God, they can’t possibly be sacred!
Sacredness is easier to acknowledge in the beauty, power and diversity of nature.
Sacredness is easier to see when life is good, we feel blessed and things around us feel more like a blessing than a curse.
It seems to me that it is hardest to see our very selves as sacred. We are usually our own worst critic, and are harder on ourselves than on anyone else. Perhaps that is what it makes it nearly impossible to see any human being as sacred. We subconsciously think, “I’m not perfect, I can’t be sacred. And if I know that deep down I’m not perfect, then other people must be hiding lots of their own issues making them imperfect and not sacred as well!”
Maybe that is why Christianity had to make Jesus sinless… it was the only way they could make sense of his deep connection to the Divine. He was perfect, so he was sacred, so God loved him and he was one with God.
In his book The Wise Heart, Jack Kornfield says, “To see with sacred perception does not mean we ignore the need for development and change in an individual. Sacred perception is one half of a paradox. Zen master Shunryu Suzuki remarked to a disciple, “You are perfect just the way you are. And… there is still room for improvement!” But it starts with a most radical vision, one that transforms everyone it touches: a recognition of the innate nobility and the freedom of heart that are available wherever we are.”
Then Kornfield shares this story:
In a large temple north of Thailand’s ancient capital, Sukotai, there once stood an enormous and ancient clay Buddha. Though not the most handsome or refined work of Thai Buddhist art, it had been cared for over a period of five hundred years and become revered for its sheer longevity. Violent storms, changes of government, and invading armies had come and gone, but the Buddha endured.
At one point, however, the monks who tended the temple noticed that the statue had begun to crack and would soon be in need of repair and repainting. After a stretch of particularly hot, dry weather, one of the cracks became so wide that a curious monk took his flashlight and peered inside. What shone back at him was a flash of brilliant gold! Inside this plain old statue, the temple residents discovered one of the largest and most luminous gold images of Buddha ever created in Southeast Asia. The monks believe that this shining work of art had been covered in plaster and clay to protect it during times of conflict and unrest.
It seems impossible that people could just forget that there was a gold Buddha under that protective coating of clay, but it is really no different from forgetting that the essence of each human being is sacred underneath the layer of protection we accumulate through the years.
Thomas Merton describes what it is like to see the essence, the sacredness of another, “Then it was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths of their hearts where neither sin nor desire nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, the person that each one is in the eyes of the Divine. If only they could all see themselves as they really are. If only we could see each other that way all the time. There would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed… I suppose the big problem would be that we would fall down and worship each other.”
I encourage all of us to set an intention each morning to see the sacredness in ourselves and in others. Notice how it changes our interactions, how it changes our hearts, and how it changes how we work, live and behave in the world.
Love & Light!