Humankind is always searching for meaning in life and during this current world health crisis (i.e. COVID-19), it appears the search has gone deeper. In times of crisis, individuals of sacred communities support and comfort each other as they search for answers. Relationships are confirmed and formed as we reflect on what our relationship with God, Spirit, and Creator is. These sacred communities, tangible or intangible, these places that are bigger than the physical elements, are God’s dwelling place with room for the world’s diverse forms of spiritualities.
Deciding what is sacred is a personal expression that allows us to search for community. Having a very defined idea of what is sacred can block us from seeing sacredness in other ways. Self-sacrifice for another’s well-being is the ultimate gift one can give. In the Christian tradition of a triune God, God the Father sacrificed his only Son for the good of all humankind. Health care workers are making tremendous sacrifices day after day, putting themselves and their own families at risk in order to save the lives of those who are sick. This unconditional love for others is truly divine.
However, the conversation of a sacred community cannot solely center around a triune God shared by Christians all over the world – it must take into account all forms and expressions of the human understanding of the divine. In our definition, we need to be aware of our own social location and assumptions, and how these relate to our own lives and communities. Conversations with others needs to lovingly reveal our own voice of spiritual experiences and traditions without undermining theirs. We must realize that we are not in control, nor have the right, to define what others consider makes something sacred.
Sacred community sites provide the peace of mind that we are not alone. They allow us to share a spiritual energy with each other and experience the awe and wonder as a community. These communities draw together the unity of our being, faith, and spirit. Each individual brings something to share with the entire community, and this sharing binds the community together as they search for the answer to the question: Is there something more? These sacred communities have the power to connect people not just physically, but also emotionally and spiritually.
Sacred communities bring a profound sense of beauty and peace as well as feelings of reverential respect for the world. They produce a unifying experience of a spiritual energy that is present at all sacred sites. These experiences and their associated feelings cross social, cultural, and ethnic lines; the sites have no language or age bearers. They connect the world with their beauty and elicit a reverence for the unknown forces at work in the world.
Working together to protect our communities highlights shared values that unite people from all backgrounds. COVID-19 is bringing out the fragility of human life and the deep interdependence that sustains it. Therefore, embracing diversity and inclusion and showing compassion are all key to reducing the effects of this virus on communities. Signs of solidarity are showing up around the world during; individuals and nations are standing together in mutual cooperation and compassion for each other, and they must. The only way humankind will overcome this virus is through global solidarity.
Such solidarity must extend beyond physical acts of cooperation to sincere efforts to understand the spiritual position and experience of others who may not share our particular beliefs. When theological, spiritual, or ethical traditions are ignored and not honored by a larger body, we have a misunderstanding of meaning, which can cause tension and even violence in some situations. Not understanding the interaction of religious-spiritual experience and culture in what we define as sacred also creates barriers to growth and cooperation. It is when we are not open to other expressions of the divine that the attack on communities occurs. All of life is sacred and a gift from God, and all life is interconnected.
In recent weeks, we have witnessed many attacks on black men in America with the death of George Floyd, Rayshard Brooks and so many more. The locations of these deaths have become sacred sites to family, local communities and our country in the sense that they remind us of the urgent need to bring about transformative change for justice and equity for the Black community. Last week, we celebrated Juneteenth which is the oldest commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States. Juneteenth has been a sacred day for Black communities across the nation; a day of empowerment and celebration of culture and accomplishment. It is an affirmation that Black lives are sacred.
COVID-19 is attacking sacred communities, causing mass death and the loss of loved ones across various social locations. Although communities are being fractured with the loss of important members, new communities are coming forth as people rise to the occasion to help others in need – even those they don’t know. This compassion for others is a spiritual bond that creates an even stronger sense of commitment to the value of community and all human life.
We need to open ourselves and be vulnerable to the spirit and the needs of others so that we can become fully human. Our sacred communities are special places that act as a portal to the spirit world, a thin space between humans and the divine.
We rise above all the pain and suffering COVID-19 is causing by extending our hearts and souls to each other, standing together in small and large communities for one purpose – to care for each other’s needs. We gather as special sacred communities that have compassion, understanding, and mindfulness for each other’s experiences. This can be difficult to do unless we engage in open and honest conversation with each other about the words we use and the true and unfiltered meaning of those words. We need to continue to listen with an open mind and heart to each other’s stories. Listening is a powerful tool for loving one another. Despite the negative circumstances this world health crisis has created, I feel this virus has also, in many cases, brought out the best of the human spirit as we stand in solidarity.
Paul R Gockel
Have you felt homesick for a sacred community during this pandemic? If so, what are a few ways you can reconnect with this community?
Has this pandemic changed your understanding of sacred communities?
How have other people’s sacred communities changed your life?
Paul R. Gockel is a Master’s student in Pastoral Studies at Seattle University’s School of Theology and Ministry. He was born in Seattle in the 50’s and has lived in the Greater Seattle area his entire life. He has been married for 39 years, has three adult children and three grandchildren. He has a passion for God and Youth and has been involved in Youth Ministry for over 35 years. He owns and operates a General Contracting business which focuses on single family residence since 1978. Paul is a license Architect in Washington State and has no plans on moving from the beautiful Pacific Northwest.