The Sacred: The Separate or the One?

Whatever “sacred” means to you, is it something totally separate from ordinary things or is it inside of and part of all things?  Is it special and extraordinary, or is it common and ordinary?  Is the sacred natural or supernatural?  Can those things be  the same thing or must they be different?

The history of the word leans in only one direction.  Sacer is the Latin word from which the English sacred comes.  It’s an adjective that describes something that belongs to the gods.  In belonging to the gods, it very specifically does not belong to humans.  By belonging to the gods, it may be thought of both as blessed and cursed.  Either way, the sacred thing is not something ordinary people are allowed to touch, and if they do, they engage in dangerous behavior.

The layout pays homage to Italian master sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini. Bernini's favorite or his architectural works was the elliptical chapel done for the Jesuit seminary of Sant'Andrea on the Quirinal Hill in Rome built a century before this oratory.Roman Christianity took over this meaning of sacred, and so, in the early centuries of Christianity, sacred things could never belong to the common people. Sacred spaces, sacred objects, sacred actions, sacred words:  they all belonged to “the other”, which is not often the common folk.

Unitarian Universalists see the sacred differently, and so redefine the word from its traditional meaning.  Look at the first parts of both words–UNItarian UNIversalist, from the Latin unus meaning “one.”  The words “unity” and “united” come from the same Latin root.

We see the interdependent web of all existence (a unity).

We affirm the  worth and dignity in all human beings (as universal).

stone and seaWe see the right relations, equality and compassion in and for all human beings (uniting all).

We accept one another and we encourage spiritual growth in each other (universally).

We encourage everyone to search for truth and meaning (everywhere).

We know that communities can work together for the common good (uniting us all).

We envision peace, freedom, and justice as real possibilities for the world’s inhabitants  (unity).

For the next  month, we will be exploring what “the sacred” means. We may find that we harbor both of these meanings within ourselves.  The sacred, at times, may mean something extraordinary in our lives.  The sacred may also show up for us in the very midst of the utterly ordinary.  What is it for you?  Where is it for you?  And, why  is it that way?

Bob Patrick

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