“To keep the sacred at the center of our lives is a heroic act of defiance.”
The Anticipated Christ, Brian Zahnd
When I read this quote from The Anticipated Christ by Brian Zahnd, it brought together some important intentions for the New Year. It is my truest desire to keep the sacred, to keep God at the center of my life. And, according to Zahnd, that desire will require acts of defiance! Yikes.
These acts of defiance conjured for me the word “contrarian,” someone who goes against popular opinion or current practices. Someone who lives counter-culturally. To keep the sacred at the center in a post-Christian culture, and during a time when much of Christianity has been coopted as a political alliance rather than allegiance to the way of Christ, this will be no easy task!
A natural question arises then: What “heroic acts of defiance” am I called to in order to “keep the sacred at the center” of my life? I’ve deliberated for several days and here is what I’ve settled on:
1. Keep the Sabbath and follow the liturgical calendar.
It immediately came to mind that one of the ways Christians throughout the centuries have kept the sacred at the center is by keeping the Sabbath and following the liturgical Christian calendar. As I’ve practice both, I’ve noticed how they redeem my relationship with time.
Time can feel so fleeting. Sabbath-keeping repairs my pace by slowing me down and creating space for quiet, reflection, and play. Sabbath invites me to be rather than do. In addition, the liturgical calendar tethers time to the sacred story of Christ, inviting me to participate in the story by marking time by it. (e.g. Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, Pentecost, Ordinary Time)
For the last year, I’ve used an app on my phone called Venite, which gives direction to my morning prayer through the Book of Common Prayer. It also reminds me of where we are in the liturgical cycle—like today is the second Sunday after Epiphany. In truth, I don’t pray the entire selection for morning prayer (it’s long!), but much of it, as well as reading the lectionary passages from scripture.
I’m encouraged that both keeping Sabbath and following the liturgical calendar help ground me in God as the center of my life.
2. Practice being a mystic, someone who experiences God, and speak and write about that experience.
It has always been important to me to not merely know about God, but to know in my inner being the God who is Perfect Love. This would classify me as a Christian mystic. In November and December I wrote a Four-part series of blogs entitled When God Seems Far Away. In the fourth one I included a quote by Karl Rainer, a 20th C German, Jesuit priest. Rainer wrote in the 1970’s that “The devout Christian of the future will either be a “mystic,” one who has “experienced” something, or he will cease to be anything at all.”
It was interesting to me that when I began the series and put it out in the world, I felt an unusual vulnerability. I don’t always feel that way when I publish my writing. As I stewed about it, it occurred to me that it is far more popular and profitable to write about social justice issues or why the church is such a mess! (In both cases, there is plenty to write about and it’s important to do so!) But it seems to me that fewer people than ever are writing about God. It almost feel embarrassing to talk or write pointedly about God or Jesus, let alone about experiencing them.
So for me to be a contrarian, I want to keep living and writing as a mystic for others who may be a part of a dying breed. That feels like an act of defiance.
3. Risk being contrarian, openly and respectfully.
I’m aware that to keep the sacred at the center of life will, at times, be risky business. It will require going against popular opinion or current practice—Christian or otherwise. This is the one application of contrarianism that makes me the most nervous. I don’t like conflict. I don’t like to get in trouble or be called out. I would rather agree than disagree in order to keep (faux) peace.
However, I’m discovering that it’s possible to disagree and to do so respectfully, without demanding that others agree with me. I’ve witnessed this in a few cases, both in person and even on social media where there are many more negative examples than positive. I’ve recently had some success in being this kind of contrarian myself. It’s actually a beautiful thing. We refer to it at our church as “calling in” rather than “calling out.” Calling in involves differentiating from someone (or the broader culture) by using “I” statements, and not insisting that others have to agree with us to remain friends.
One of our kids (who I won’t name out of respect) is particularly masterful at this. She demonstrated it well this last Thanksgiving when, before our meal, we went around the table and expressed thanks “for this one thing.” One family member (which I will also not name out of respect) took this as an opportunity to preach a long, loud sermon about Jesus, involving numerous references to sin, hell, and heaven. After this person was finished, our daughter spoke up, expressed disagreement and gratitude that we are a family who can express different opinions and love one another. Whew. She honestly saved the dinner!
I won’t lie to you. I’m a little scared of this word, contrarian. I don’t know what it will mean for me as I keep it before me as an orienting guide, “a star in the east,” that leads me toward the sacred life I desire and know God desires for me.
Happy New Year, all!