If you and I walked into a public place and asked each individual there to define sacred, we would get a different answer from every person. Yes, sacred does means many different things.
On a simple level, sacred is often tied to participating in the worship of a deity. We see others who have dedicated themselves to the service of a deity or to living a life of prayer or meditation, and we view them as living a sacred life. In addition, history notes leaders who became martyrs for a specific cause. In the news, people like Mother Theresa are famous for their dedication to the service of the poor. Since their particular life of service is not the lifestyle we are called to lead, we may view their lives as more sacred than ours. Perhaps they are. After all, sacred implies that we see a being or a ceremony as being worthy of reverence. We see priests, saints and certain rituals as being sanctified, and therefore, sacred. Yet, are these the only sacred actions?
Following a tragedy or disaster, we hear of amazing deeds in news reports. Many people are commended for acts of bravery. Firemen sacrifice. Police officers and emergency nurses serve. A small child miraculously saves a parent’s life. We understand that heroes act instantly and without personal thought in someone’s time of need. They have given of themselves in courageous deeds; thus, these acts seem sacred.
By the examples of these people, we may believe that sacred calls for making a sacrifice. Certainly, an act becomes sacred when we choose to act in a particular way regardless of the cost to ourselves. Whether we consider a firefighter’s brave action or a the man who dives into a flood to save a stranger’s children, we know that certain events bring out sacred actions.
Can a person live a sacred life without such unusual circumstances? Can an individual live a spiritual life, a sacred life, and be (for instance) an accountant? I say, “Yes, you can.” Surely, we also see people acting in a sacred manner in everyday life.
Many individuals serve other people in simple ways. Every day, teachers and students help other people in schools throughout the country. Regularly, single parents sacrifice their personal time for the good of their household. Poor working families work different shifts so that their children will come home to a parent after school. People on welfare drop canned food into baskets to be sent to those who have lost their homes during a hurricane. These, too, are acts of sacrifice and kindness.
A friend once pointed out to me that even when discussing the differences in religion, she could not imagine a Buddhist raising his/her voice to make a point. If a Buddhist chooses to live in such a gentle way, is that not living in a sacred manner? If any individual tries to speak kindly to those she/he meets, is that a sacred life?
What would happen if more people decided to live a sacred life? Would they stop focusing on being millionaires and do something good with all of that money? Would they feed hungry children? Drill wells in Africa? Would more people do what is right? Would they act more kindly and charitably? Instead of ignoring or insulting the homeless person, would they offer a sandwich? Listen when others speak? Forgive a mistake?
What would it look like if you decided to live a sacred life?
Would you be more comfortable if I remove the term sacred and replace it with spiritual? Religious devotion does not necessarily give the follower a sacred — whoops, spiritual — life. It’s your choice: read the following paragraphs as they are or put the word sacred back into the sentences.
Although believing in dogma and participating in ritual can connect a person to the spiritual, spiritual living is not living according to a particular canon, nor is it merely associated with a specific religious act. Living a spiritual life does not mean you must give up your present life. You don’t have to stop working or quit doing all the things you now do. You don’t have to join a monastery or live in poverty. A spiritual lifestyle is not limited to a particular religion or way of living. In fact, spiritual living is distinct from religion.
Spiritual living is looking for something outside of the limits of self. Because we know that we don’t have all the answers, we read books, evaluate different techniques, and try fresh experiences. We search for the answers to questions that were not resolved in science class. We may not even be certain of the questions. We just know there is “something more.” Spiritual living is a way to touch the knowledge of the universe.
Spirituality, even without a religious foundation, can be sacred. Spiritual living is the act of creating a direct link to the Divine. It is a personal interaction with divinity (if you prefer: Universe, God, Goddess, Dao, Brahman, or All-That-Is). Living a spiritual life, a sacred life is a choice. It is a marvelous, limitless quest. What would happen if you decided to live a sacred life?