Five years on from my original post I find it hard to say whether I’ve resolved some of the tensions I discussed in it or not. If you’ve followed this series, you’ll know that we haven’t found ourselves a place in a Christian community where we could share in sacramental worship as traditionally understood within the church, which in a way saddens me, as it was such a vital part of what led us away from where we once were. In a way, however, this sabbatical from church has helped me to reflect further on what it might look like to embrace a life which sought to be ‘an outward sign on an inward grace.’ It has forced me to turn my attention away from what happens within a church service to what impact my beliefs have on my every day life and practice.
A life lived sacramentally is a life that seeks to find and embrace mystery in the midst of the every day. It’s a willingness to embrace uncertainty and an awareness of our inability to fully understand all that is going on, and yet, somehow, find meaning in the smallest, most simple of moments. It takes a view that everything is spiritual, everything is sacred, that there is no spiritual/secular divide, that God is present in the middle of the busyness, the mess, the complexity of life because we are present in the middle of the busyness, the mess, the complexity of life. Every relationship, every moment and every breath becomes a celebration of life in all its glorious fragility.
Sacramental living sees the mundane, takes it and fills it with deep meaning. Bread and wine celebrates community, water cleanses deep below the surface, small metal rings signify love and unity forever, oil brings healing where suffering threatens to overwhelm…words become poetry, myth becomes truth, fear becomes hope. Our lives become vessels for so much more than we can imagine as we becomes bearers of love and hope to those around us.
If we can view our lives as a sacrament, we can grasp a way of living that breathes life into our world, our thoughts and our actions reflecting something much greater than us, something worth living and dying for: grace – unconditional, extravagant, self-giving, no-reward-seeking, generous, unfailing, non-judgemental, forgiving, never-ending. Our lives become the way in which others see and experience the life transforming love of Jesus, turning abstract concepts into earthy and earthly reality.
Living sacramentally rejects a world that tells us to live as if we are all that matters. We refuse to see the other as a threat – looking instead at our fellow human beings as fellow image-bearers, not competitors in some kind of struggle to the top. We view our planet as a gift to be nurtured and protected, not to be used to simply satisfy our endless desire to consume and destroy to fulfil our wants. We show through our sacramental lives a world turned upside down – blessings where others see curses, the last becoming first, light where darkness once thrived. Mourning exchanged for dancing, ashes for beauty, freedom for captives, hope instead of despair…
And this is, I think, where sacramental worship comes in – it reminds us, through rich symbolism, that not everything is how it seems, or how it might be. It offers us a glimpse of another way to be, disturbing us, challenging us, and asking us to look beyond the obvious. We can literally ‘taste and see that the Lord is good’, feeding and nourishing us with something that goes beyond mere physical sustenance. Although it maybe doesn’t ‘save’ us, it can help us to be saved from ourselves as we acknowledge our weaknesses and inability to cope with our world on our own. It can transform us from self-centred to Jesus-centred, which opens our lives to the possibility of being part of Jesus’ work here on Earth.
As we participate, we become part…what a beautiful idea.
I don’t want to suggest that those who don’t practice the sacraments aren’t living the fullness of what God might have in store for us – indeed, as mentioned above, we aren’t doing any of these things regularly. I’m just fascinated by what might be possible if we take a sacramental view of the whole of life.
I’ll end with words written by Albert Orsborn, General of the Salvation Army in the 1940s/50s, who, despite being ‘non-sacramental’ in a traditional sense, perhaps best articulated what I’m trying to argue:
My life must be Christ’s broken bread,
My love his outpoured wine,
A cup o’erfilled, a table spread
Beneath his name and sign.
That other souls, refreshed and fed,
May share his life through mine.