Alphabet of Faith — “S” is for SECULAR and SACRED

The letter “S” is next in our continuing journey through the alphabet in our Alphabet of Faith series. I’ve chosen two “S” words, that seem to stand in contrast to each other but in our daily walk of faith should be together.

“S” is for SECULAR and SACRED.

I usually write these Alphabet of Faith blogs from a Starbucks in Toledo. Today I’m in a very different location. I’m writing from a Trappist monastery near Dubuque, Iowa! I’m taking several days for my annual study leave; have always wanted to do a retreat/study leave at a monastery and this is the year.

The monastery has approximately 30 monks in residence. Because they are cloistered they have separate living quarters and take their meals by themselves. They wear an off-white robe with a black covering that goes over the shoulders and down both the front and back with a hood in the back. I’ve had occasions to exchange a few words with several of the monks, but even among themselves they talk little. The monks of this particular Abby own over 2,000 acres of land that they farmed until recently, raising corn, cattle, and hogs. Now the land is leased out. One of the monks explained that many of them are getting too old to farm and there’s too few of them. In their heyday they had about 140 monks in residence. Currently their main form of income is making wooden caskets from trees on their own land.

Frankly, it has been a challenge focusing on praying and reading when the temperature has been consistently in the upper 90s. My small room and the rest of the monastery (including the huge chapel) are not air conditioned. The only two rooms that have air conditioning are the dining hall and gift shop (I now eat my meals very slowly and frequently go shopping for gifts). I must also tell you that I brew Starbucks in my room every morning, though the monks’ coffee isn’t bad.

A monastery is the epitome of the division between the secular and the sacred. The monks have taken vows that set them apart from normal day-to-day life. Their life is one committed to reflecting on Scripture, prayer, and worship. They have the various offices throughout the day and night when they all gather in the long chapel with its high wood ceiling for worship (6:30 am, 9:15 am, 11:45 am, 1:45 pm, 5:30 pm, 7:30 pm, and 3:30 am (the only one I’ve not attended, OK call me a spiritual wimp if you wish).

Though the monks live a cloistered life that seems to have drawn a clear line between the sacred and secular, I’ve observed that they still have to do “secular” work like the rest of us. Brother Xavier makes great whole wheat bread, and I told him so. Another brother took me on a tour of their casket making operation (he showed me the casket he’s now working on). They may have a sacred life focused on scripture, prayer, and worship, but they still must tend to the ordinary details of life. Even in monastery life the sacred and secular merge.

The Bible is clear that God is into the details of everything and every day life and that it is all sacred to Him. “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God…” (1 Corinthians 10:31)

What makes where we are and what we are doing right now sacred is…

doing it with the awareness that the Lord is with us…

doing it with an openness to doing it His way, in the right attitude and for the right motives…

doing it with a dependence on His direction and help…

and doing it to please Him and for His glory.

There is to be no contrast between the secular and the sacred. To God all of our lives are to be sacred! “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Colossians 3:17)

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