A Sacramental Imagination

A few weeks ago, I attended a handful of the events at Harvard Divinity School’s bicentennial weekend, including a festive reunion party on Friday evening and a faculty-led class on Saturday morning. 

Two of my life-long best friends, who I met on my first day of orientation at HDS.

Beyond providing a chance to see old friends, fountains of champagne and an inspiring address offered by the President of the University, the reunion filled me with a profound sense of gratitude for the place that I got to call home during my graduate student years.  With its breadth of alumni working for justice and peace in many and varied ways, its commitment to advancing the understanding of religion in a complex world, and the spaciousness with which it welcomes people and ideas spanning a wide spectrum of background and belief, Harvard Divinity School is a special place.   My time there significantly impacted my spirituality, my understanding of the world and the people in it, and my vocation.

What I was reminded of in an overarching sort of way on Friday night, I had confirmed in a very specific manner during the Saturday morning class I attended titled “Marilynn Robinson and the Sacramental Imagination.”  Offered by a favorite professor of both mine and Caleb’s, the session explored the idea of the sacramental imagination from both the Catholic and reform perspectives and addressed how Marilynn Robinson transcends the distinctions in her novel Housekeeping.  It was the first time I heard, in concrete and digestible terms, what exactly “the sacramental imagination” entails, and I was struck both by how very Catholic I am in my understanding of creation (as is related to the sacramental imagination) and the implications that this has for my theology and my way of being in the world.

If a sacrament is “an outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible grace” (thanks for that pithy description, Saint Augustine), something that both points to God and makes God present, than the sacramental imagination is the way of viewing the whole created world as revealing God’s presence.  In other words, the universe is a sacrament: by its existence, it points to the existence of God, and God is present within the creation itself.  Catholic and reform theologians agree on “what” of the sacramental imagination, but they disagree on the “why,” with Catholics believing that God’s love was so abundant that God overflowed creation into being, and Protestants believing that God’s love was so abundant that God decided to create beings (all the plants and animals and things of creation). 

There are of course many, many, many more intricacies to distinction (intricacies that have significant implications on Catholic and reform theology more broadly); I have but a cursory understanding.  The personal key take away that I gathered from the talk, however, is simple: I am resoundingly Catholic in my understanding of the Sacramental Imagination, and I have been for as long as I can remember.  The idea of a loving divine energy that overflowed creation into being resonates with me so much more than the idea of a personified being creating sub-beings. 

I’ve always felt uncomfortable with language that personifies God the creator (I’m down with the humanity of the second person of the trinity…but not so much with the first and the third) even if it is to express nice sentiments: God loves you, God cares about you, God wants to hold you in God’s arms.  In the circles I run in (even the Catholic ones), this seems to be the dominant language for talking about God, and so I’ve always felt a bit sheepish about the fact that they don’t strike a chord with me.  It’s not that I disagree with sentiment behind these words (if God is infinite, overflowing Love, than sure, God loves me).  It’s that I don’t imagine God as a human-like being, so it’s as hard for me to understand God caring for me as it is for me to grasp a beautiful fern leaf or a setting sun caring for me. 

But an energetic and vibrant life-force that courses through creation, animating it with spirit and renewal and goodness, itself the very source of spirit, renewal and goodness; a belief that the core of me — my soul, my true self, my spirit — is a drop of that life-force, a light within; a conviction that all people share this inner-core-of-light, and thus we are united; a sense that my life calling is to nurture the life-force-creator-God-divine-energy in the people with whom I work, play and love, to tenderly care for the light of myself and the light of others — now that I can get behind!

It looks like HDS is still impacting my sense of vocation and space in this world.

Resolutions

A post or two back, I wrote about my words for 2017: Perspective, Prayerfulness and Poise.  I’m letting those words propel me, like the wind behind a boat, into this year that I hope will be one of growth and goodness. 

resolutions-image

But, we all know that a boat needs more than a bluster to venture far.  A rudder to guide it, a centerboard to balance it and a sail to catch the breeze are as necessary as the wind, and so, too, are some specific smart goals to accompany my words for the year.  Smart goals are goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-based, and they’re meant to add focus and specificity to one’s actions. 

I love the idea of having a word (or three, in my case) to give an overarching theme to the year, but I know that it’s the practicality of smart goals that will make living out my words possible.  With this in mind, I have created a few smart goals to accompany each of my words for the year.

Perspective

Most of my smart goals are related to Perspective, for a few reasons.  First, it’s my primary word for the year; prayerfulness and poise stem from it and I hope lead towards it.  Secondly, it’s a bit of a catch all.  The place where I most need perspective is work (I need to not let the petty (and legitimate) frustrations, the causes for anxiety, the at-times-annoying people get to me the way I do), and I’m of the mind that focusing on all the joyful, successful, meaningful and life-giving aspects of my life outside of work will help me remember what is important, thus giving me perspective when I have to deal with the inevitable challenges at work.  For this reason, I’ve crafted a whole slew of goals that will direct my attention outside of work.  That’s perspective after all, right? (one of my favorite definitions: a true understanding of the relative importance of things).

  • Try at least one new recipe from each of my cookbooks.  I have all these great cookbooks, but every time I want to try a new recipe, I look on pinterest or elsewhere on the internet, not in them.  I thought this would be a good goal to help me enjoy my home more… and delve into a hobby that I always take pleasure in, cooking.
  • Read Middlemarch.  I have a “Read Before I Die” list and, for the past several years, have tried to read one or two books off of it each year.  This is the year for Middlemarch.
  • Go on one adventure a month (I have a list of adventures, which I’ll discuss in a different post).
  • Complete a full twelve weeks of BBG (this is the exercise plan that I use fairly consistently — I really like it — but hop all over with; having consistency and a sense of completion but completing the full 12-week cycle will be satisfying).
  • Decrease sugar consumption by taking sugar-free weeks, or weeks with sugar just one or two days.  There is no reason that I should be having dessert every day, if not multiple times a day.  With 28 upon me, it’s time to change this.
  • Acknowledge birthdays. Send cards, texts, emails or phone calls.  Do something to celebrate and connect with the people I love. 
  • Blog 50 times.
  • Connect with my siblings monthly, at minimum.  My brothers and sister, along with Caleb and my parents, are the people who matter most to me in the world and I almost always have fun and feel lifted up when I talk/text/snap with them.  And yet, I don’t do it enough. 
  • Get organized with giving.  I donate here and there, but in a highly disorganized fashion.  I want to consider what causes and organizations I value and admire (and Caleb, too) and get organized about making donations to them. 

Prayerfulness

  • Reflect/journal for at least fifteen minutes each day. 
  • Continue to invest in Spiritual Direction, and integrate what Rosemary (my Spiritual Director) has to say to me into my life. 
  • When I have a lull moment — in the grocery store line, or the shower or the car — give a “help, thanks, wow” prayer: ask for help with something I need, say thanks for something I’m grateful for, and lift a word of praise.
  • A feeling of skepticism accompanies most of my moments of prayer; let the skepticism go

Poise

  • Wear heels more, because: look good, feel good, do good.  Or, as William James more poignantly wrote, “Actions seems to follow feeling, but really actions and feeling go together; and by regulating the action, which is under the more direct control of the will, we can indirectly regulate the feeling, which is not. Thus the sovereign voluntary path to cheerfulness, if our cheerfulness be lost, is to sit up cheerfully and to act and speak as if cheerfulness were already there.”  In other words, if I look poised, I will feel more poised, and I will be more poised.
  • Floss daily and take vitamins at least a few times each week.  Flossing is one of those things that I have known for a long time I should do regularly, but just couldn’t have been bothered about it.  I figured that 2017 was as good a time to commit to this as any, and I knew that developing this healthy habit would help me feel on top of my life; the same goes for vitamins.  These goals loosely tie into poise for the same reason as wearing heals.
  • Before going into situations that I know will push my buttons, prepare myself: take a deep breath and say a prayer for composure and remind myself that I have agency and the ability to be poised.  Then go act accordingly!