Pattern #75

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Sacredness Card

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Sacredness Symbol

Pattern Heart

The awe-inspiring, mysterious, living presence of things far greater and more important than ourselves can invoke veneration while powerfully linking us to each other, the world, and deep insight. But different senses of the sacred can also profoundly divide us over meanings and violations. So create respectful space for diverse sacredness in a context of implicit sacredness that embraces all.

  • In this situation, what do we hold as our highest value and guide, above all else?
  • Where does my life energy and meaning come from which, if it were devastated, would devastate me?
  • In general, what is most sacred, precious, inviolable to you, the violation of which (or the harm to which) could impact you most deeply?
  • Is there any spiritual truth or reality that’s so holy to me that I believe it should guide all people and/or its transgression simply cannot be tolerated or forgiven?
  • What is it like to know that other people have different sacred principles, truths, institutions, places, people or gods that are as sacred to them as mine are to me? How can (or do) such people relate to each other – especially to agree on the common good and to work together with each other to further it? What conditions need to be present in order for that to happen well?

Sacredness – going deeper …

This is an edited version of the video on this page.

This is a tricky one. What is sacrosanct? You don’t mess with sacrosanct.  It is “the third rail”, the electric thing that is going to blast you if you mess with it. That’s the consequences, the dark side, the negative kind of energy that tends to accompany what is sacred.

But sacred is fundamentally about what’s positive:  What do we hold precious?  The “we” can be everyone in the world, or it can be our tribe, our subculture, our culture, our group, our way of thinking about things.

Whatever is sacred has immense meaning for us. It organizes us at a level of who we are, what we are about, why we are here. We’re going to dedicate a lot of our life energy to what is sacred to us. That’s at the heart of sacredness.

But because people and groups and cultures are different, they have different senses of what is sacred.  To the extent we value diversity, that’s good.  But this is where diversity can get hot. When you think of “the Other” – the person or group who you feel is deeply, essentially different from you and alien to you – very often that Other holds something sacred that’s different from what you hold sacred.

In this pattern’s image we see two pictures – one of different flags and the other of different religious symbols. A lot of people hold their nationality, their religion, and the associated rituals and beliefs as fundamental. People who don’t share those things are “Other“. The fact that in the image we have pictured many different flags – probably from the United Nations or the Olympics – that’s a symbol of us coming together as different nationalities.  Likewise, the circle with all the religious symbols suggests that all the religions have something valuable to offer. Each religion can be appreciated on its own, and together they can co-exist and fruitfully engage with each other.

Then we picture an old woman, a symbol of age and of old people. Age represents experience and is often connected with wisdom. Most people and cultures realize that it is important to grant specialness to aging and to the aged. And it’s also important to grant specialness to children, for they represent change and the future, and they embody aliveness and innocence – all things that we we can lose touch with as we get embedded in adult daily matters. Finally, there’s the earth:  Whether we know it or not, we are all so totally dependent on this dynamic living ground that we all share which we call the earth. These three things – age, youth, and the earth – all in different ways represent our efforts to pull together sacredness, to feel sacredness in common, to ground ourselves in these things while we deal with our differences.

So in different senses, sacredness can divide us and/or hold us together.  But it’s tricky because it involves what is most meaningful to us.

In getting to common ground around this pattern of “Sacredness”, we can appreciate the related patterns that are offered with it: “Appreciative Thinking“, for example, tells us to appreciate each other, to learn to appreciate both the similarities and differences between specific religions and nations.  And with “Complex Identity”, we know: I may be an American but I’m many other things too. I may be an old person but I am many other things too. I may be white but I am many other things too.  And, likewise, all these other related patterns offer ways to help delve into that paradoxical thing called sacredness. And the resources given are about multicultural, multiracial, interfaith, intergenerational – all the “inter-s” – about bringing together people who hold different things as sacred, important, most precious….

Video Introduction (5 min)

After reading the 50-word pattern heart Tom Atlee elaborates on the pattern.

Examples and Resources

A sacred moment… is a moment in time that is imbued with sacred qualities… such as gratefulness, feeling of connection with and support from the transcendent, sweet-sadness, awe, compassion, and/or a deep sense of inner peace [often described with words like] precious, dear, blessed, cherished, and/or holy… Studies underscore the concept that there is a significant positive connection between what are considered sacred components of life and well-being and a negative connection to stress. – Elisha Goldstein

The great trick that humans developed at some point in the last few hundred thousand years is the ability to circle around a tree, rock, ancestor, flag, book or god, and then treat that thing as sacred. People who worship the same idol can trust one another, work as a team and prevail over less cohesive groups. – Jonathan Haidt