Sunday, January 9, 2022

Making the mundane sacred.

I usually agree with John Beckett, the Druid priest who blogs over at Patheos Pagan. But I had a problem with today's post from the get-go.

His post is in response to a question he received on a post-class survey: "How can we learn to see mundane activities through a sacred lens?" His TL;DR response: we can't. Because as soon as we consider the mundane sacred, the sacred necessarily becomes mundane.

That's going to be news to the members of certain Native American tribes, not to mention monks of various religious orders. 

It's easy, I think, for most of us to see how Catholic monks would consider day-to-day activities as sacred. They've pledged their lives in service of their Lord, so anything they do that helps the community thrive becomes a sacred duty -- even peeling potatoes and scrubbing floors. While Buddhist monks don't pledge their lives to a deity, they do separate themselves from the world in order to achieve enlightenment. Buddhists employ various types of meditation to reach this state, and enlightenment can strike any time -- even, say, when doing the dishes. 

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As for Native Americans, the first thing I thought of was the Navajo Beauty Way. For the Navajo, as I understand it, beauty isn't just superficial; it's a way of life. It's living in balance with the land, with other people (including non-human people), and with their spirits. If a Navajo has somehow fallen away from the Beauty Way, whether by their own actions or through no fault of their own, rituals may be done to set them on the right path again.

I am broadly generalizing here. But the common denominator, as I see it, is in the attitude you employ as you go about your day. You don't have to be a monk or a Navajo to attain this, either: If you have settled on what you consider to be your moral imperatives, and you build your life around them, then everything you do that gets you to the goal of living your truth could be considered sacred. In other words, it's not the stuff around you that's sacred, although depending on how you believe it all got here, it could be; the important thing is how you interact with it.

Let's say you're a lawyer. What they teach you in law school is that everybody -- and I mean everybody -- is entitled to representation before the law. If that's your moral imperative, then you theoretically would have no qualms about representing a defendant who has admitted to killing multiple people in the most gruesome manner possible. Sure, your client is a horrible human being, but they deserve -- they must have -- a lawyer who will advocate for them before a judge and jury, and even plead for mercy.

That's one sort of moral imperative. But what if you're a lawyer whose moral imperative is that killing is wrong? Or what if you've been okay with representing killers for a while now, but something has changed? Maybe your latest client shot up a school, and you have kids who are the same age as the victims. (Full disclosure: I soured on being a news reporter when I had to cover a story about a scumbag who killed his three-year-old stepson because he wouldn't eat Thanksgiving dinner. He buried the boy's body in a truck toolbox in the Great Dismal Swamp. My daughters were toddlers at the time.) Now you have a moral dilemma. How do you resolve it? Do you move into another field? Or do you keep doing your job, even as you feel yourself falling farther and farther away from what the Navajo call the Beauty Way?

In The Pipe Woman Chronicles, Naomi Witherspoon resolves a similar dilemma by becoming a mediator. And then she meets a Lakota goddess and a hot Ute shapeshifter, but I digress. 

And I guess I've digressed pretty far from the point of this post, which is this: I believe that if you're working toward living an ethical life -- in other words, living up to your own standards of morality -- then every step you take toward that goal can be considered sacred. Even doing the dishes.


These moments of moral blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Do the right thing: Mask up, maintain your social distance, and above all, get vaxxed!


Smoky said...

I find sweeping the porch, or the kitchen, with a straw broom one of the most meditative, sacred experiences of my day. Yes, it may be considered mundane, but that makes it no less sacred.

Anonymous said...

There's a book titled something like Zen and the Art of Knitting in which the author posits that any repetitive task (knitting, gardening, walking, carrying water) can aid a person in achieving a meditative state.

Lynne Cantwell said...

Smoky: Agreed. Plus you get to take pleasure, when you're done, in a task completed.

Anon: I do find that knitting can be meditative -- as long as it's going well and I haven't hit a snag, in which case it's less calming and more enraging. :D

Lynne Cantwell said...

Hi Jo-Anne -- Yes, that's very helpful. And ideally, we'd be doing that anyway. In fact, thank you for the blog post idea. I needed one for this week! :D