What does it mean to live a sanctified life? Hell, what does sanctified even mean in our day and age? There is a load of baggage around the term, if you’ve spent any time in the South or around American Evangelicalism you’ve probably got a pretty firm grasp of what that group thinks of the word. But I want to peel back the layers of meaning and get back to the root. Sanctified comes from the word sacred, or holy. For something to be sanctified is quite simply for it to be intentionally dedicated to holiness.
Holiness is defined differently across religious and spiritual traditions. Your view of the sacred, or holy is quite possibly different from mine and that is OK. I don’t need you to be just like me, in fact I’m hoping you aren’t. I think we can learn more from our differences than from the ways that we are alike. So today I’d like to share a story (my story) of an attempt at a sacred life, because it might surprise you.
Here We Go
I grew up in the 80s. It was still a time in the United States (certainly the Midwest) where everyone went to church. It was a given. So like everyone else I knew the church was the center of my life outside of school. It was my social sphere, my extended family attended, and I loved it. I loved the orderliness of services (Episcopalians are all about order, very English of us). I loved the music, and the mystery.
Everyone was like me.
Out of the nest
And that might have been the whole story of my spiritual life. But I went far away to college in a big city where I felt lost and alone and everything was different and hard. And it was a congregation of lesbians who rescued me. (Really) My world got suddenly wider, and more colorful than I could have possibly imagined. All the old categories of who was good and bad, right and wrong got thrown wildly off kilter.
I took classes that rocked my world, I explored the depths of the library and found religious traditions and wise teachers I’d never knew existed. It could have been a time of world shaking fear but that it was so damn fun and filled with such good, supportive folks who were willing to catch my fledgling spirit and ease the transition from safe nest to big open sky.
And then, I graduated and got a very good job, making very good money. I settled quite comfortably into ‘burb life. Work, hobbies, yes church and spirituality was still there but it was a nice comfortable part of my life that didn’t get much in my way. And then things got rough. I was laid off (twice), the economy tanked, my religious community fell into deep strife.
And again it was the life of the spirit that caught and sustained me. My daily practices of prayer and meditation opened up a world of compassion in the midst of that strife and conflict. Spiritual friendships and mentorships pushed me out of my comfortable suburban nest and eventually I jumped in with both feet. I sold everything I could, packed my life (and cat) into my Mini Cooper (not kidding) and moved across the country to graduate school for seminary.
And my life got bigger and wilder, and more colorful again. Now the spiritual life of my community spoke a symphony of languages, from Spanish to Urdu. The food that nourished my body was spicy and colorful and varied. I was given the gift of new ways to pray, new ways to meditate, new ways to connect with the divine.
It is a glorious thing to be given time and space to devote yourself totally to your spiritual passions. My days were spent in worship, classes, and deep discussions. My nights were spent with like minded people eating great food, drinking good booze, and solving all the world’s problems. (Like you do.) And in the midst of all that intensity a sanctified life seems pretty easy.
But like all seasons it ends and out you come on the other side…
And you end up working in your religious or spiritual tradition and there is a real danger it will just become a job. I suspect yoga teachers, and life coaches and the rest are just as at risk for finding their passion has become a 9-5, for getting into the habit and out of the love.
And that’s where I was. Doing the work, but not feeling that spiritual buzz. I call it a spiritual brown out. Because it’s not like you are done, you still really believe in what you are doing. Your values are firm, your practice remains but the excitement and buzz is gone. The bulb is just sort of dull.
And I hate to say it, but that’s a lot of life. Most of our lives aren’t lived on spiritual mountain tops. We can’t be on a spiritual high all the damn time. Mostly we’re walking along in the valleys of life, and that’s OK. But it can also feel frustrating.
More & Less than ordinary
I was laying on my yoga mat, sweating unattractively and feeling frustrated and spiritually empty at the end of a yoga class when God(dess) patted my head ever so gently and said sweetest, it’s all sacred. Maybe you’ve had one of those moments. Those huge breakthroughs often come in the most ordinary moments, when (for whatever reason) our brain is quiet, our body is still and we’ve just open enough to actually hear.
What I heard was an invitation. I had spent the previous few years lamenting the end of that sparkling time of being totally immersed in all things magical and spiritual that was my grad school experience. And now there I was, doing the work that often seemed so mundane. I suspect the Holy was chuckling to herself just a little at me.
And finally I was able to hear her saying: dearest child, of course it’s mundane. That’s what’s actually sacred! Me: what’s sacred? All of it.
Perhaps the greatest stumbling block in a spiritual/religious life is the expectation that such a life will be extraordinary. When it is exactly the ordinary that we are called to live into.
Our life is a sacred journey. But I think that when we see it’s aim as some holy place far away from us, we miss the greatest gift life has to offer. And that is the sacredness of each step in our journey. My revelation on that yoga mat led to a change for me, and it eventually produced a book! It’s just $4.99. If you find Crazy Whole Life helpful I hope you’ll grab a copy for yourself or a friend!