On Finding the Sacred in the Secular

I have come to believe that one does not have to go to a church, synagogue, or mosque to encounter the Sacred. This picture is one I took of one of the most beautiful cathedrals I have ever experienced — Yosemite Valley. The awareness of God’s presence there was much more real and profound than anything I’ve ever experienced in a Church. Such grandeur knows no religion yet is a wondrous celebration of God’s creation.

As I contemplate this cathedral, however, the words of Abraham Joshua Heschel echo in the background: “The road to the sacred leads through the secular.” Heschel’s works suggest that not only is God’s grandeur manifested in Yosemite Valley but also in the people, places, and things I encounter every day in El Paso, my hometown.

In theory I believe all this. After all, Jesus said “The Kingdom of God is within you”, a reminder that the Sacred can be found in each of us. A beautiful thought but one with which I struggle. Why? In part because I am an introvert drawn to the inner path to the Sacred. But I struggle more because I have come to see within myself that I don’t like people very much. I believe we are a troublesome species that has made a mess of things. We people are responsible for everything from wars to poverty to plastic clogging the ocean.

Like my business partner you might be thinking “Isn’t working as a psychologist kind of strange for someone who says he doesn’t like people?” Perhaps. I concluded several years ago, however, that I didn’t have to like someone to be of help to them. This conclusion was very liberating. Rather than be distracted by not liking someone and trying to make myself like them, I could relax and listen without judgment. In some ways, I have come to see that my task is to help each person uncover and listen to the Sacred within him or herself.

I am not naively optimistic about people. We — all of us __ are capable of horrendous evil. We all have a dark side. Thus to believe that everyone I meet has some Sacredness within can be a great challenge. Yet that is what we are called to attempt when we are challenged to love our enemies.

I took all these thoughts with me today on my Good Friday prayer walk. My thoughts got pretty noisy and confused until a favorite Psalms passage came to me: “Be still and know that I am God.” And so I continued quietly on, simply enjoying a warm beautiful El Paso afternoon.

I know there is Sacredness in the people I love and the people I admire. I know there is Sacredness in many of the people who come to me for help. But then I had a thought that jolted me: “But what is Sacred within you?” I struggled with that thought for the rest of my walk. I have written and talked about the importance of loving oneself. It is humbling to be reminded of how difficult that can be. I ended up with a paraphrase of Jesus’ words: “See the Sacred in your neighbor as well as in yourself.” Amen to that!

Reflection: 1. Where do you experience the Sacred in your life?

2. What is Sacred within you?