Art and craft, these two simple words do a fine job of naming two of the three realms of living. I’ve had some difficulty finding an equally straightforward and simple term to describe and name the third. For a while I’ve latched onto John Michael Greer’s “Theosphere.” It is literal enough. It describes a realm centered on our relation to the holy while studiously avoiding any of the abused and overused terms like religion or even the holy…. But it has a harshness to it. It’s not direct enough. Too disconnected from what it attempts to describe.
Recently it struck me that what I’d been aiming at is already covered by a word like sacred. Sacred is specific in the feeling it describes while remaining totally inclusive, embracing all of the ways we can approach whatever it is we may call sacred. It appeals because it does keep the emphasis on the feeling and keeps us looking at how we acknowledge and act on these feelings. This works in much the way art and craft do. Each describes a realm of activity and a broad aspect of what it means to be alive.
Of course, if we push to build an opposition between the sacred and the profane we do begin to lose some of that inclusion. Perhaps if we can see this more as a distinction than a division? We could also say there is an anti-art or an anti-craft. These attitudes and modes of action exist and form the same kind of distinction with their pairs as sacred does with profane. Technology as an attitude and an approach could be called anti-craft. Maybe “entertainment” could be the comparable anti-art?
This might be a good place to recapitulate. Art is the realm in which we grapple with questions of meaning. Craft is where we meet our needs by bringing our whole beings to bear on questions of physical necessity. In this same spirit we can say that the sacred is where we integrate our selves and forge our communities around a sense of purpose. We move among and between these realms throughout our day, our year, our lives; and, in so doing we make our selves whole and we find ways to fit into the whole of things, into our cosmos.
Trinities have always been significant because three stands for the many. Three breaks the polarity of opposites just as opposites break us free of monomania. We move between three and this keeps us from stagnating in a singular mode or getting locked into opposites. It’s an approach to time that keeps us engaged and fresh, ready to connect with what is coming into being without getting stuck in the past or being blocked by illusions of some projected future.
What is sacred?
If we let go of insistence and quiet the voices clamoring to demand we take this or that as sacred over and above anything else; we begin to find in the ensuing stillness that a connection with the sacred begins to form within us. This connection, this discernment, arises out of our practices as we follow the inherent demands of art and craft. They form within us as we begin to recognize what it is in whatever fragments of community or individual integrity we happen to muster out of the ruins of the present-day world.
As we discover aspects of the sacred in our growing attention to quality and presence we begin to want to find ways to share. This is where communion and even its roots in community itself come to be. When we find and are filled with joy arising out of attending to the moment we are passing through we become attuned to communion and community as the places where this joy can find its outlet and expression. It is where our growing sense of compassion finds its realm of action. At this point our sense of the sacred compounds and begins to envelop and shine through everything. This requires celebration! And this celebration is also part of how we act within the realm of the sacred.
In this realm of the sacred we act in ways distinct from those within art or craft. In art we look to create. To make connections and find joy in new ways of perceiving and responding to meaning. Meaning we discover through acts of creation that challenge us to do things, to look at things, to express things in ways that have not been seen before. In craft we look to balance what we know how to do with what we recognize as needing to be done. We are in a tension between how things have been done in the past and how our situation has evolved into something else since the last time we faced this particular question of need. We create, not only by fulfilling needs, but by finding more apropos methods of making and doing.
In acting within the realm of the sacred we approach things differently again. We work within a medium of symbols; but not abstractly. We find and develop ways in which to embody and engage with and enact relationships with symbols and each other that draw archetypal forces into the present moment and bring them into living presence among us and within us. We do this through ritual.
Ritual is a simple enough term. It names an action in which we intentionally and attentively interact with the symbolic made tangible. There is an interplay between the power of the meaning discovered through our art-practices that we find exist within certain symbols and relationships of symbols; and the power of tangible presence we find within the artifacts of craft that we have hewn and imbued with a tangible living presence. These actions are “useless” in a way related to the uselessness of art. They are also repetitive in the way the workings of craft must continue to return us to the same ongoing needs. They are creative in the combinations of conceptions of meaning and their embodiment in made things and also in the ways in which we interact with each other and within our own psyches to the situations that are enacted within the repetitions of ritual.
The insanity we are enveloped in today comes in large part from our profound alienation. We have become so alienated – from each other, from the living world, from our own selves – that we flail about in reaction and remain trapped and overwhelmed by the futility of trying to make things work in ways that have so clearly failed us. To get-on we need to begin by acknowledging how broken we are. How much there is to mourn. And, how we may discover routes to establishing our strengths and capacities so that we can drop our illusions and look at where we are with clarity. These actions are embedded within practices that connect us internally and externally to the foundations of energy and purpose. Foundations we have failed to acknowledge as we’ve confused literal projections of our dis-ease for the actual living embodiment of energy and purpose to be found within the discovery and maintenance of our integration, our integrity, within the totality of what-is.
One pernicious form of our alienation displays itself in our willingness to ignore any or all of these three realms of living and claim that we may opt-out by fiat. Either out of that corruption of urgency that is known as expediency or because we somehow see ourselves above or beyond the need to ground ourselves in these mediums of existence. We tend to want to discount any sense of discernment and any call towards disciplined attention to fulfill requirements beyond the pulls of mere desire. Most likely because these concepts have been so abused in ploys to manipulate and control us. What is important to note is that this vein of nihilism feeds into the desires of those who conspire to control us. So long as we remain infantilized and damaged and alienated we can so easily be manipulated and controlled.
Abuser’s gonna abuse…. We are complicit in perpetuating this pattern when we play along with their framing of our realities. We break the pattern; we disabuse the abusers of their power to continue along their destructive paths; only by disengaging from their ploys and actually inhabiting our own lives. We do this by entering into this dance within and among the three realms.
We don’t require professions. We require practices. We don’t need to develop philosophies. We need to find ways to live with purpose and meaning. We don’t need to fight what exists. We need to discover ways to exist that bring us fulfillment and wean us off our dependency on destruction.
When we begin to allow ourselves to realize how bankrupt our institutions are, our civilization, we cannot help but feel overwhelmed. It’s a mistake to think that we can create a new mythos or even build new institutions. These things grow of their own accord. They are beyond the capacity of any single individual or even a group of individuals to create out of acts of volition. Institutions, even civilizations, grow from the accumulation of efforts and attention made over time and affected by the passage of time. They are as much a palimpsest as they are constructed. What we can do is turn our attention from failed modes of action and frames of being. We can attend to having direct engagements with what it means to us to be alive using the capacities and abilities we have at our disposal.
When enough people do these kinds of things institutions and civilizations unfold. When too many are ground down in the wheels of corrupt institutions and death-dealing civilizations that do not respond to our needs to inhabit these three realms then these institutions and civilizations falter and collapse. We find ourselves in the midst of this latter condition. What we do; how do it; and why; all have an impact on whether we allow our vitality to be sapped by and feed the powers of destruction or whether we add our strengths and efforts to whatever may unfold to take their place.
We have a choice….
Communing with the sacred we develop a compass that guides us on this journey.