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What is sacred?

The relationship of all living things.
By Patrick O'Neill
Winter 2007 11.1.07

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There is something innate to human nature, something basic to our civilized sensibility that recognizes certain distinctions of worth in reality. And the name we have traditionally given to the highest of these is “the holy” or “the sacred.”

I am suggesting that there is a part of human experience that evokes an attitude of reverence, awe, and ultimate respect, a category of transcendence.

My own concept of the sacred these days is less concerned with divine mysteries and Latin definitions than with a simple recognition of the relatedness of all life and our place within the web of existence. For me, the sacred is that which binds us to all other living things and to the Earth which is our home.

Even if no divinity exists, for me the relationship of all living things, each to the other and to the world which sustains us, is sacred. Whatever violates that relation violates the sacred. Whatever nourishes that relation increases it. Whatever calls us to an appreciation of that relation, calls us to holiness, invites us to the sacred.

Finally, this may be the truth of the matter: The things that are holy and sacred in this life are neither stored away on mountaintops nor locked away in arcane secrets of the saints. I doubt that any church has a monopoly on them either. What holiness there is in this world resides in the ordinary bonds between us and in whatever bonds we manage to create between ourselves and the divine.

We act as agents of the sacred by our choice to view this world in a religious way. We are co-creators and preservers of God’s beauty in the world, in our art, in our science, in our service to high ideals, and not least in our devotion to the good and the just.


Reprinted with permission from a new pamphlet, Unitarian Universalist Views of the Sacred, © 2007 Unitarian Universalist Association. See sidebar for links to related resources.

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