These questions are explored in this Fall 2017 issue of Parabola. The English word sacred arises from the Latin word sacrum, which to the Romans meant what belonged to the gods or was in their power, within the temple. The profane, by contrast, or profanum in Latin, meant what was in front of the temple, and therefore outside of it. And so we often think of the sacred as that which is set apart—a place like an altar, a cemetery, or the Wailing Wall; an object like a Quran or a monk’s robe; a teaching like that of The Lord’s Prayer.
There is a more inclusive approach to the sacred as well. In traditional indigenous understanding, nature—including all life but also the land, the seas, the sky—is sacred. As the Sioux writer Ohiyesa says in our opening pages, “The Great Mystery is…in earth and the water, heat and cold, rocks and trees, sun and sky; and he is also in us.”
Yet not all is sacred. We may intuit, for instance, that waging war is not sacred per se, although there may be wars fought in a sacred cause. We sense the same about banking, about sports, about indoor plumbing and Oreos and artificial intelligence. In David Ulrich’s essay that begins this issue, we can easily distinguish between the beautiful Hawaiian island considered sacred by many, and the bombs that litter it after decades of war games and that so clearly desecrate it.
In another essay here, Michel Conge, who studied with G.I. Gurdjieff, speaks of a “divine spark”—an image that appears in every tradition in some form. Without that spark, that connection to and embodiment of the divine, there is no sacredness. That connection is nearly infinite in variety, and so in this issue we are able to consider the sacred from multiple perspectives. There are interviews with a Sufi sheikh and with a man who lived with a black bear; meditations by a rabbi and an encounter with a Christian pilgrim who prays incessantly to Jesus; lessons from the Hindu classic the Bhagavad Gita, insights from the Baha’i faith, wisdom from Dostoyevsky and Plato.
We hope you will enjoy and benefit from this issue of Parabola. May it help us all to live in remembrance of the sacred.
Cover Description: Photograph by Sayan North.Purchase the Current Issue
Table of Contents
ESSAYS AND CONVERSATIONS
Ohiyesa, The Great Mystery: A Native American prayer
Anonymous, Lord Jesus Christ Have Mercy on Me!: A pilgrim introduces the Way of the Heart
Joshua Boettiger, When We Can Let It Shimmer: Meditations of the Sacred
Plato, The Cave, translated with commentary by Eliot Fintushel: Leaving shadows for the light of the Real
Robert Atkinson, Rays of One Light: A Baha’i understanding of human evolution and destiny
Michel Conge, Presence and Prayer: To cherish the divine spark
Lex Hixon, Remembrance: A conversation with Sufi Sheikh Muzzafer Ozak Effendi
Lillian Firestone, To Repair the Past: Tending to the ancestors
Lee van Laer, A Universal Symbol: The miracle of the Enneagram
Shephali Patel, Sacred Soil: Embracing earth, born of the stars
Rodney Collin, On the Road to Emmaus: The Fourth Way path of self-remembering
Fyodor Dostoevsky, He Was Not Ashamed of that Ecstasy: The cosmos calls to a young Russian monk
The Story of Sujata Anonymous / Buddhist
A Jataka tale retold with commentary by Margo McLoughlin
Spirit of the Earth: Indian Voices in Nature
Michel Oren Fitzgerald & Joseph A. Fitzgerald, editors / reviewed by Samuel Bendeck Sotillos
The Hidden Third
Basarab Nicolescu / reviewed by David Appelbaum
Nassr Eddin Hodja and His Donkey
The Brotherhood of the Dancing Camel / reviewed by Bob Scher