Nov 30 2011

Sacred Moments, II

Have you ever thought about how much photography is about life and not about death? We are uncomfortable with death in our culture. While there is some imagery about death in nature, it tends to be either dramatic African predators killing prey (or something like it) or a rather psychologically distant image of a dead tree trunk.

I thought a lot about this as my father died earlier this month. His doctor said something that is so basic that it is obvious, yet so against our culture that it is not often said — dying is a natural process of life and my dad was slowly doing something that we are all supposed to do at some time.

This does not mean this is an easy thing. I was sad to see my dad go, though given his serious health issues, I was also glad to see him at peace. But it also made me think that if dying is a natural process of life, then it is something God has given us as part of life. If as Christians we truly believe that death is a passage to being with God, then death is also a sacred moment, a moment to be honored.

Rabbi Abraham Heschel said this about sacred moments, “The higher goal of spiritual living is not to amass a wealth of information, but to face sacred moments.”

I really wanted to be with dad as he died. That was important to me and I was blessed to have had that opportunity. I know that our culture does not want to accept witnessing death as a blessing, but I have learned that it can be. And a sacred moment to be faced.

I spent some time in the Maine woods near where my parents lived as my dad died. At this time of year, you cannot help but see the passing of much life as winter starts to come. Of course, we know that a leafless tree in late fall is not about death because the tree will “come to life” again in the spring. But maybe that is a good metaphor for our own mortality. As we age, our bodies change dramatically, just like the tree in fall. Then the winter of death comes, only to be revived as a spring as we find our way to God after death.

Psalm 89:48 says, “What man can live and not see death, or save himself from the power of the grave?” I think now that this means that life and death are part of the same process. Because of this, death can teach us to recognize what is really important in the world. I know that God used my dad’s death to help me better understand this very, very important lesson. And to recognize what a sacred moment death is.

— Rob


Nov 2 2011

Sacred Places, Sacred Moments

This past Sunday, our pastor talked about the names of God, and in doing that, spent a little time with the story of Moses and the burning bush (Exodus 3). As Moses got close to that bush, he was instructed to remove his sandals, for this was holy ground.

While our pastor had an excellent sermon about Yahweh, the concept of holy ground is what I want to look at. Notice that this holy ground was not in some magnificent temple nor was it in some dramatic wild place. It was simply the ground near a burning bush. And notice that even the bush is not some huge, towering tree. It is a rather ordinary bush (though the fact that it was burning and not being burned makes it not such an ordinary sight!). What made this holy was that it connected Moses to God.

Rabbi Abraham Heschel once said, “The higher goal of spiritual living is not to amass a wealth of information, but to face sacred moments.” ¬†That moment for Moses was certainly sacred, too, for it definitely challenged him spiritually. Mark Nepo in his book, The Book of Awakening, uses Heschel’s quote for a meditation about facing sacred moments. He says that often we want to build a road to somewhere other than where we are rather than open doors that wait before us. Those doors that wait before us are sacred moments that can connect us to God.

I think it is easy to get caught up in taking a “road” to some magnificent national park to be inspired there by God’s creation when we may be missing sacred places and sacred moments that are not so dramatic. It is interesting that Jesus rarely went to some dramatic temple for His sermons. And indeed, He was more likely to talk about lilies of the field than the dramatic cedars of Lebanon (that lived during His time and were indeed dramatic).

I love dramatic places. I love to go to the redwoods and be impressed by these tallest of trees. I love to go to Yosemite and be impressed by massive mountains of granite. But sometimes I feel that those are the only places where people feel awestruck by God’s creation. If you can pause and be open to sacred moments all around us, you can be awestruck by a spider building a web, something truly amazing and a sacred moment for me. Or maybe it means getting down to the level of a flower growing quietly beside a parking lot, yet sharing its beauty for all. That is a sacred place for me (and seriously, maybe I should remove my shoes just to reinforce the importance of such places).

I admit that I have always had a place in my heart for such small things. Maybe that comes from growing up in Minnesota where there are not so many dramatic parks. But I think it goes further. I believe that if we are to respect and care for God’s world, we need to see all of it as important, not just the dramatic places. With an open mind that lets us “face sacred moments”, as Heschel says, watching a spider build a web can be an amazing sacred moment, kneeling before a flower can be kneeling on holy ground.

The flower is a datura or jimsonweed in a parking lot in Pasadena. The spider is called a common orb weaver and was in my front yard.

— Rob