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The Sacred and the Profane

October 7, 2010

We all live segregated lives.

Work. Home. Play. Other.

The lines of our lives are blurry and, at times, spill into each other but, for the most part, we are startlingly effective at keeping them separate.

Our effectiveness at keeping our lives separated, however, does not just apply to our external relationships and obligations. It finds its way into the way we live out our spirituality as well.

Last week, I was asked to lead a devotional at a conference I was attending in Fort Worth. The devotional leader the previous day had offered a meditation on the verse, “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).

I sat thinking about those words for along time. In them is a call to pull ourselves, temporarily, out of the busy-ness of life to seek the voice and presence of God. But, I thought, don’t we also need to heed the call to bring God into the busy-ness of our lives? After all, I am not a cloistered monk. I have a job, and a family and all kinds of responsibilities and distractions, but I am called, nonetheless, to “pray without ceasing.” It seems to me that the best way to accomplish the task of praying without ceasing might require me to call God into my daily realities, rather than me constantly trying to escape them.

One of my biggest temptations is to segregate my spiritual life from my “normal” life. It reminds me a book a read in college that dealt with the formation of religions and the distinction of reality as sacred (having religious significance) and profane (having no religious significance). I am sure that I am not alone in my temptation to do just this: to think of my actions and my life with the same segregated mindset that would set apart spiritual activities (the sacred) from normal activities (the profane).

I wrote about this phenomenon a few weeks ago when discussing sexuality and the theology behind Natural Family Planning, noting that divorcing the procreative function of sex from the bonding function of sex is just one more attempt to pretend like the physical and spiritual realities of the human person can somehow be separated.

For me, personally, I’ve often tried to carve up my life, spending time doing spiritual things (prayer, study of the scriptures, writing) and thinking of the rest of my life as distinctly non-spiritual.

The end result of living and thinking this way is a type of dualism and, dare I say, hypocrisy. It acknowledges the importance of the spiritual but doesn’t grant the spirit the prominence of letting it permeate every part of our lives.

In recent study, I’ve discovered how often the Catholic Church has addressed this issue directly. In the document produced by the Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, the church offered this teaching:

“Christ Jesus gives them [the laity] a sharing of his priestly function of offering spiritual worship for the glory of God and the salvation of all…For all their works, prayers and apostolic endeavors, their ordinary married and family life, their daily occupations, their physical and mental relaxation, if carried out in the Spirit, and even the hardships of life, if patiently borne-all these become ‘spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.'” (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, 34).

The fact that the Second Vatican Council would explicitly address the need to infuse Jesus into every part of our lives, even our, “physical and mental relaxation” tells me that I am not alone in the temptation to segregate my life. But, beyond that, it gives me hope that I can go further than just taking a “Be still and know” moment in which I enter the sacred realm, but rather, that I can bring the sacred into the everyday and the profane, offering every moment and action to God.

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