Insights: Staring into the Face of the Sacred
By Chris Scheller, M. Div., Director of Religious Education
Our spiritual theme for the month of January is “staring into the face of the sacred”. What does the sacred mean to you? My own view of the sacred was decidedly influenced by South Asian religious thought during my travels there between high school and college.
Swami Vivekananda, a Hindu monk, famously quoted a passage of Hindu scripture before the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago in 1893, saying, “As the different streams having their sources in different places all mingle their water in the sea, so, O Lord, the different paths which people take, through different tendencies, various though they appear, crooked or straight, all lead to Thee!” In Hinduism, four of the most common paths to approach the sacred are through selfless service to others, devotional practices of love and adoration towards the sacred through practices such as prayer and song, knowledge and discrimination of the sacred, and meditation. In our own Judeo-Christian heritage, we can find parallels to these four approaches to the sacred.
Like the different images of light we see through different stained glass windows, the sacred looks a little different to everyone depending on our perspectives and beliefs about what is sacred. As Unitarian Universalist Rev. Paul Rasor points out, sacredness is that which we perceive is worthy of the highest respect and reverence and “a vehicle through which we may experience ourselves in deeper relationship with the divine.” Now, we may prefer other words to “divine”, such as simply life, truth, love, the interconnected web, mystery, or that which is. The name isn’t important. What is important is the feeling and experience of the sacred, as Rev. Gretchen Haley writes, in our call to be awake to suffering, in our opening our hearts, in the process of transformation, and in the way that each and every one of us throughout all space and time is simultaneously connected and the same, yet also more diverse and unique than we can ever know.
In our Unitarian Universalist heritage, we have been taught to look for the divine everywhere. Thoreau wrote in A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, “The ears were made, not for such trivial uses as men are wont to suppose, but to hear celestial sounds. The eyes were not made for such groveling uses as they are now put to and worn out by, but to behold beauty now invisible. May we not see God?” Of course, as Rev. Harold Babcock reminds us in reflecting on this passage, learning to see in this way will take practice.
So let us marvel in the exquisite uniqueness, the exquisite sacredness, of everything and everyone we encounter. Let us see all life as sacred, whatever that means to you, and approach the sacred in all the ways we can. For there is saving grace there, not just for ourselves, but for the whole world. And let us approach and live the sacred in our own unique ways as we relish the hard-fought religious freedom that is our heritage as Unitarian Universalists. For by doing so we live our truth, we express our own most exquisite uniqueness, and we bring the whole world alive by coming alive ourselves.
Amen, and Blessed Be.