t some point in our lives we have all wondered how evil resides in the world with an all-good God. As Christians we patiently abide, acknowledging our sufferings and perseverance with faith and with hope—sometimes more or less successfully. But there are moments, moments of real despair, that are hard to reconcile while we endure them. And looking at all the suffering in the world, I mean the real travesties, is a humbling experience, even to the most devout. With these reflections, despair seems to come naturally, and we can take the path of faithlessness. But, whether atheist or religious, this faithless path has no redeeming qualities. An atheist or agnostic cannot stop at mourning—there are ways to improve the world after all. Charity, or simply being a bright spot in the day of people around you, does untold good. Much of the good done in the world of this nature remains unreported in both our news cycle and in our interpersonal communications. As Christians we are called to be Christ’s body on earth, doing the good His loving nature desires. Good must come from evil, salvation from sin. This points us in the direction to act—to make things right.
But there are other problems faithful people see that guide us down a secondary road of futility. This is to see our physical universe as a fallen world of evil and sin. This of course is true. We are called to reject this world and put on the mantle of Christ. But to focus only on the fallenness of the world, or to call the world “evil” is problematic. In a purely spiritual sense it makes the world superfluous to our salvation, and yet it is the world God created and gave to us in order to find Him again. So this view that the sinful world should be completely rejected is equally hopeless, and it is no mistake it is one often taken by Christianity’s philosophical rivals in the ancient world (especially Gnosticism). It elevates all the evil we see over all the good we do. It elevates hell over heaven, ignoring God’s declaration that His creation is good. It takes a provisional view of theology—a view grounded not in eternity but in this world and this time but purporting to be the opposite. It forgets a key element of our faith, that God has already won, and focuses only on the second truth of our faith—that he will subdue all under Himself. It skips, then, a holistic view of Christianity, sectionalizing our pursuit and knowledge of God, thus making our faith inconsistent.
For instance, part of one’s day is spent contemplating how this world is fallen forever away from God, and part on the faith that all will be well, as was revealed to Julian of Norwich and proclaimed consistently in the Bible. Part of the day is spent focusing on Christ’s death on the Cross solely as temporal crime and miserable suffering, the rest on the victory of the very same Cross. In reality the beauty of the Incarnation is that Jesus’ suffering was His victory, and His victory suffering. This points us to a deep mystery, that all is in fact good, no matter our perception, in the true nature of things. Christianity is a religion of abundant hope, not of pessimistic cynicism, nor even a bastard mixture of anticipatory confidence and despondency.
The victory of Christ’s passion is not only transcendent—it is and was immanent. And so God becoming or being man is a calling, a mission to mankind to be awakened and unified with God, NOT a calling to ignore this world which He loves, lives in, and creates as simply evil. It is instead, to be seen as full of potential, full of seeds for good. Jesus Himself calls us to look after each other in this world, a sacred mission from God.
Something else is needed. We know certain things. We know God declared all good. We know all is and will be under his loving guidance. We know He chose this world for our salvific education. And it is in our earthly lives we find God. All these things require a view of the world as sacred despite appearances, despite our own fallen perspective. Sacred not as an end in itself, for our true end is in God. And not sacred just in fact, but in act, as a process unfolding to reveal the true purpose God had for creation, a process in which we participate. And most of all, not sacred just in time or in eternity, but both.
And here I like the word sacrament. The word Sacra-ment means something to be kept sacred in the Latin. Moreover, it means something that is kept sacred. And, more deeply, it is a mystery. The Latin “sacramentum” translates the Greek μυστήριον (mysterion). So, by “to be kept” we see action. We must make it so. By “is kept” we see fact, or a thing’s original state. Creation is already sacred, and this sacrality manifests. By mystery we see the unity of the perfection of how our actions bring about the sacred underworkings of creation. The Catholic and Orthodox churches keep seven Sacraments, beautiful rituals with deep symbolism where heaven is truly reflected on Earth, but there is no reason that this word “sacrament” need only be kept by this specific application in the theology of these churches. In fact the world might be full of sacraments with a lower case “s”. That same eternal mystery purely reflected in a moment of time.
So what I offer below is a reflection on how God imbued beauty and holiness deeply into the mechanisms of the world, sometimes despite appearances. It is not an answer to logical problems. It is a reflection on how the world is full of purpose, of sacrament, and what sacrament in a very broad sense might be. Sin remains an important topic-it is not to be ignored or treated lightly. But it must be remembered that Jesus Christ, the Incarnation, vanquished sin and conquered death. The thoughts are not new, perhaps-most ideas seem to come from elsewhere—but they are sincere. To speak of such things requires either a humble and simple style, or a baroque one, and I think here a little poetic prose captures the subject better. What follows chases this idea of sacrament in fact and in unfolding-that all is sacred mystery and all in its variety is one in beginning, middle, and end. For God has ensured and loved all in eternity, and we, as flies buzzing in unknown dance but preknown pattern, are surrounded ever by God as breath and center.
In a way a sacrament truly “is” what it reflects as the Son is the perfect image of the Father by Truly being one and the same God while fully human. The only perfect image is the thing itself in another hypostasis. Of course the spiritual grace of the physical sacraments are not comparable to that ultimate mystery, but they are still the most powerful beauty to be found in this world.
Sacrament is as hidden cloth, the true adornment and ornament of our world. As we put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and as the soul is rightfully the garment of the body, sacrament is truly the character of the world. It is the unitive principle that like is like because phenomenal difference is noumenal unity, an echo of the eternal salvation of our cosmos in the person Jesus Christ. All was declared good since all was good, and this because all was endowed with both embodied and invisible purpose and impetus by that very same Word.
Sacrament is the ontological realization, the mysterious but named union, and the manifested individual recognition, of state and act becoming sacred in truth. The harmonious yoking of shadow to light from the same source of infinity in metaphysical syzygy.
The nature of a sacrament is to manifest the hiddenness of nature. There are of course the seven great Sacraments, but, perhaps in a lesser way, the world itself is a sacrament and full of sacraments. A process whereby the visible and invisible acquire their endemic ontological value. This unfolding is a celebration of the work and creation of God. It is present more spiritually and perfectly in the seven Sacraments, but one must not forget the sacramental nature of creation. Both are ordained by God—the seven Sacraments as the schoolyard of our soul and the lesser sacracements the schoolyard of our bodies. A sacrament in our plane is what it symbolizes, but more mystically it is what it is meant to be. The Incarnation, in this way, was the most perfect Sacrament of cosmic union, embodying and transcending both the greater and lesser sacraments which themselves sing in unison the Grace of God, begotten in eternity and born in time.
As above so below refers back to the sacramental nature of the world, about how the end is the beginning. The cross is creation. So this world must be a reflection-a creator imparts part of himself or his plan into what he creates. But it also refers to the divine education. What God creates, however we mean that term, serves the purpose of return. The two worlds are only two by philosophical definition, not by spiritual truth and mystery. They are connected for the same reason God became man. That is a sacrament, a yoking of the disparate worlds. A reflection that all is God because all will be subjected to him, and even we will become gods. This was the preordained, or eternally simultaneous, plan of end reflected in beginning and beginning leading to end. It might even be that the two worlds become one like we become one in Christ, as he wished we would become one like the Trinity. In truth we are, and the worlds are, but we are unfolding in the process of time to something that has eternally happened. So as above so below is inevitable, but also purposive.
Sacrament is God gracing mankind with a part of creation, true creation. It is ritual whereby, through the grace of God as source, we make the world sacred. We cannot create from nothing, but through the power of God we can awaken the meaning intrinsic to our world. Bread becomes body, blood we make through the visible wine—seeds God allows us to watch grow. Perhaps this wonderful action informing meaning is a small feat when compared to the ever-burning love of God for man, that he would make the whole world, invisibly awake and waiting to be perceived, in truth a sacrament. His Word declared it good. But our ignorance obscures the beauty for us, and we see dirt where there is meant to be seen growth, weariness where we are meant to see memory, and evil where all verily sings the Glory of God. The world is as root and flower, hidden and reflected, or expressed. If the one nourishes, the other is beauty. The benefit of looking at the world through the lens of sacrament is to see beyond this fallen world to the true purpose of things. For here nourishment comes in body and soul, and beauty feeds the soul insofar as it directs to God. In temporal moments of sacred actions, we see the world as it is.