The highest human purpose is always to reinvent and celebrate the sacred.

~ N. Scott Momaday

It’s been a while since my last post; school and job hunting have kept me dashing to and fro, and lengthy, library-scented sessions devoted to writing essays and researching term papers have been scattered here and there.

And in the midst of it all I’ve found a few opportunities to reflect . . .

Last Thursday, philosopher and author A. J. Jacobs visited our campus as part of the Omnibus Lecture Series. And while his talk was indeed entertaining, much more fun for me was the chance to interview him in my Religion & Popular Culture class.

Besides a couple of professors in attendance, I had the privilege of being the only one in the room to have read his fantastic book, The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible. And since he dedicated much of his time with us to answering questions, I jumped right in. I knew he was coming and I was ready. Interviews were always my favorite thing to do when I worked in radio, so I was in my element. Mr. Jacobs is a very soft-spoken, humble guy, and we had a great conversation about the book and his experiences during his year of taking fundamentalism to the extreme. If you’ve visited me on Facebook, you know that, under Religions Views, I consider myself “Reverently Agnostic”. Here’s why . . .

Do I believe in a traditional biblical God? Well, not in the sense that the ancient Israelites believed in Him. I could never make the full leap to accepting a God who rolls up His sleeves and fiddles with our lives like a novelist does his characters. I’m still agnostic. But in the words of [spiritual advisor] Elton Richards, I’m now a reverent agnostic. Which isn’t an oxymoron, I swear. I now believe that whether or not there’s a God, there is such a thing as sacredness. Life is sacred. The Sabbath can be a sacred day. Prayer can be a sacred ritual. There is something transcendent, beyond the everyday. It’s possible that humans created this sacredness ourselves, but that doesn’t take away from its power or importance.

I come away from this year with my own cafeteria religion. I’ll be doing things differently than I did thirteen months ago, things both big (resting on the Sabbath) and small (wearing more white clothes). And I’ll keep on saying my prayers of thanksgiving. I’m not sure whom I’m thanking, but I’ve become addicted to the act.

I did the addicted thing for a season; the version of Christianity I lived, like any physical substance, kept me flying high, and I lapped it up with self-righteous vigor. Then I found the will to cast it aside, and for several years now I’ve lived outside the tent. I have basked in the freedom of living without any reverence – any sacredness – at all.

And it has left me feeling a bit empty.

So a couple weeks ago I started going to church again, this time on my own terms, among a people willing to consider the importance of reinventing what is sacred. My daughter has been coming with me, doing yoga and learning about kindness. And I’ve had my mind stretched by the words of an excommunicated Greek . . .

A vehement Eros runs through the Universe. It is harder than steel, softer than air. It cuts through and passes beyond all things, it flees and it escapes. It is a Militant Eros. Behind the shoulders of its beloved it perceives mankind surging and roaring like the waves, it perceives animals and plants uniting and dying, it perceives the Universe imperiled and shouting to it: “Save me!” Eros? What other name may we give that impetus which becomes enchanted as soon as it casts its glance on matter and then longs to impress its features upon it? It longs to merge with the other erotic cry, to become one ’til both may become deathless. It approaches the soul and wishes to merge with it so that “you” and “I” may no longer exist. It smashes the duality of mind and body, to merge all breaths into one Divine Monad. In moments of crisis this Erotic Love swoops down on human beings and binds them together. It is a breath superior to all of them, independent of their desires and deeds. It is the Spirit, the breathing on the earth of what human beings call God. And it comes in whatever form it wishes – as dance, as Eros, as hunger, as religion, as art, and does not ask our permission.

On Sunday, I lit a candle for my dear friends fighting to hold back a swelling river running through their city, and it felt right. Were I there I’d grab a sandbag or two . . . lend a hand and a smile. But I’m here. And though we are separated by miles, both physical and ideological, I know we each long to let the sacred pounce upon us, to see it in the faces of our families and friends and total strangers, and embrace it, even as it slips through our fingers, unwilling to be pigeonholed or packed away in tidy compartments.

My journey is getting interesting, and I’m enjoying the walk . . .

[photo credit]


19 thoughts on “Sacred

  1. your voice here is so clear, so rich.

  2. If there is one thing I miss as an atheist, it is the sense of peace and fellowship that came, at times, from church. Unfortunately, too many others things came along with it for me to put up with it for long.

    There is a place in agnosticism or atheism for the spiritual. While I am convinced that there is nothing supernatural in the spiritual, there is a sense of peace to be found, and a feeling of being part of something bigger than ourselves.

    1. There is a smallish book by French philosopher Andre Comte-Sponville titled “The Little Book of Atheist Spirituality” that is an intriguing read . . .

  3. Have you ever read anything by Rob Bell? You might like him.

    1. I’ve read Velvet Elvis, and found it just controversial enough for my liking . . .

  4. Brian, I can’t believe how alike our experiences of religion are. We belonged to a very small Christian church for a few years, about four years ago. We lived and breathed that church, and then it disbanded. We were both burned out on religion and church at that point.

    We haven’t belonged to any church since then. We went to church once about a year and a half ago, and it just…wasn’t there. We’ve moved back to Houston since then, and we have what seems like a really nice church right next door to our house. But we just don’t want to go to church.

    We’ve been thinking about going to the UU church here, because it seems like the only place that we might feel comfortable. I can’t go to any church that preaches against other people, or teaches that everyone else is going to hell, or that some of us are more worthy of equality than others…just can’t do it. The UU church seems like it might be the place to be, because I do miss the connection with other spiritually-minded people.

    I really enjoyed this post, Brian, thanks. 🙂

  5. Thats one reason why I pray, to connect myself to something more and to acknowledge outwardly that I am grateful. My peace comes from the questions I share with others and the answers they give, thats better than any book can tell me on what G-d has to say. 😉

  6. I have a difficult time with atheists because in the spiritual, I just don’t trust absolutes. I have always identified as an agnostic/buddhist light but I love the reverant agnostic. What a wonderful way to capture the uncertainty of knowing, really know that which is greater than us. Lovely post and I am putting the book on my list to read.

  7. I am really moved by this post. I’ve been having a spiritual crisis lately. I grew up in a fundamental Christian religion, a cult really. So when I wiggled out from under the thumb of mind control and constant guilt trips, I felt freedom for the first time. But now that I’ve had the freedom, I realize that something is missing. My heart is aching, simply aching, for something spiritual and intangible. I bought a cross the other day and have been wearing it. I don’t know why I did that or what it means. The quote from the “excommunicated greek” was absolutely stunning. I don’t know that I even quite understood it’s entire meaning. But I felt it in my bones. That’s what spirituality is to me, in a way. Something felt but not necessarily understood on a logical level. That church your attending seems awesome. I would love to find a little place like that around here. I just couldn’t bear a controlling, judgmental religion at this point in my life. Anyway, great post, as usual!

  8. P.S. I noticed that I wrote “your attending” instead of “you’re attending” in my comment. I hate when I do that! I’m not usually that much of an idiot. I promise!

  9. Ah, sighs the atheist. Honestly, I understand what you are talking about, the need for community and spirituality. I think the idea of atheism is a theism, and we forget that it isn’t “end all religions and I think I have an answer for things.”

    I am a theistic. I do not believe that a God or Gods consciously manipulates existence. I think the real problem is discourse. As a student of linguistics we do well to keep our terms close to us. Today the meanings of these terms are blurred except in the most philosophical circles.

    I still wonder at relativity and space-time, but, I can not reconcile this wonder with a faith community.

  10. A very calming and intimate post. I’m not an extremist when it comes to my spirituality or Christianity, but I don’t know what I’d do without my faith and belief in God. I don’t see or feel God the same way my parents do or even the same ways most people think “all” Christians do, but I have a belief in him, nonetheless. I would never question someone’s right to believe or not believe in anything. To hurt someone by insulting something they feel in their heart is just wrong. That’s why I don’t “witness” the way so many religious organizations do, etc. You should get to believe what you believe, and so should I.

  11. You guys look like you were separated at birth. Long lost brothers. I’m with you on the need for spirit in our lives. And I’m happy there are so many paths to the same destination.

  12. hellesbelles86 April 2, 2009 — 5:12 pm

    Its interesting how many times I’ve stumbled across various references to coming back to a faith not a church that I’ve stumbled across in my life recently. I haven’t attended a church for close to ten years now and I find that altho I’m wistful about the fellowship I don’t miss the politics. My mom who has been anti anything related to formal religion after her years of “Christianity” with the hellfire and brimstone inherent in so many “one true church” settings is coming back to a belief in Christ if not in Church. I’m glad to know (sort of) that I’m not the only one who struggles with all of this and you write about it so beautifully- the coming to terms and understanding and such. Thank you.

  13. reverently agnostic? acknowledges that life is sacred, things are unknown, but connectivity to other humans and our quest for spiritual meaning all rolled up nicely! i love it!

  14. I think it is beautiful that you lit a candle for your friends that were facing loss from flood. I think most of us would grab the shovel and help–if we were there. When we are unable to help in a physical sense, it is common and comforting to turn to the spiritual to try to lend help such as lighting a candle or saying a prayer. I don’t think those things go unnoticed by the “universe.”

  15. These are wonderful thoughts you’ve shared. I’ve struggled over the years finding my spiritual footing. We’ve attended evangelical churches, a unity church, visited votex’s in Sedona, Arizona, and boycotted church. I’ve read and studied and prayed and tried. I wouldn’t have been able to write it as eloquently as you did, but I was nodding my head as I read your words. The difficult part for us is parenting through these issues. One of our sons loves church and God (in the Biblical sense), the other is skeptical. It’s difficult because they’re still at the age where they adore us and hang on every word we say. Awesome post.

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