In the introduction to their book, "Spiritual Literacy: Reading the Sacred in Everyday Life," Mary Ann and Frederick Brussat maintain that we encounter signs every day which point to the active presence of the Spirit in the world around us.
"Spiritual literacy" they say, "is the ability to read signs written in the texts of our own experiences. Whether viewed as a gift from God, or a skill to be cultivated, this facility enables us to discern and decipher a world full of meaning."
The Brussats go on to remind us that spiritual literacy of some sort is practiced in all of the world's religious traditions. Medieval Catholic Monks called it "reading the book of the world." Muslims suggest that everything that happens outside and inside us is a letter to be read. Native Americans find their way through the wilderness by "reading signs."
"From ancient times to the present," say the Brussats, "spiritually literate people have been able to locate points of connection with the sacred within their daily life. Perhaps you find God in books or movies. Perhaps you feel closest to the Spirit in nature, or through your service activities. Perhaps your family is your greatest source of spiritual nourishment. Whatever is true for you, you are invited to join others who have found that spirituality is played out in the ordinary and the everyday. For when we are spiritually literate, we discover that the whole world is charged with sacred meaning."
The rest of their book is broken into ten sections ~ Things, Places, Nature, Animals, Leisure, Creativity, Service, Body, Relationships, Community ~ within which there are snippets from novels and movies, poems and stories, all illustrating how other people have connected with the Sacred in those categories. The Brussats also propose an Alphabet of Spiritual Literacy; a symbolic reminder that before we can start to "read the Sacred," we must learn the alphabet of the Sacred.
I discovered this book a couple of years ago while preparing for our annual Women's Retreat, and have found it to be an invaluable sort of "Bible" for me ever since. Each page is filled with some new insight of how ordinary people connect with the Extraordinary in their every day living, offering inspiration about how one can seek out and find those connections.
I find this book to be such a treasure because it serves to remind me of something I've been working to cultivate for many years in my own spiritual life. Namely, that connecting with the Sacred is not confined to a certain prescribed place and time, such as a place of worship on a specific day, nor to the activities sanctioned by religious authorities such as daily prayer and Scripture reading, etc., as is taught in many religions.
Nor is it exclusively confined to a particular system of belief or religious practice. On the contrary, our connection with Sacred Reality is a bond which is never broken and is always available. If we pay attention, we will see it evidenced every where we look.
Traditional Christianity, which is my background, teaches that God is with us but separate from us, and that connection with the transcendent Holy "Other" needs to be intentional, formal, and uninterrupted. For instance, I was taught a proper formula for prayer (implying that if I strayed from the formula, my prayer would not be heard by God), and led to believe that regular church attendance and faithful Bible study would bring me closer to God.
The end result is that traditional religion has historically advocated a kind of dualism which separates our spiritual life from our every day living. Thomas Moore puts it this way: "Caught up in the immediate and the temporal, we forget the great vision and the eternal truths, or we divide one from the other, giving intense attention to the eternal on Sunday or Saturday or some other special day, while thinking that every other day is somehow unrelated to the whole of our lives, and to the cosmos that is its setting."
But it's not just religion that has encouraged this separation of our spirit from the rest of our lives. Society has done so as well, particularly since the birth of the Modern age which, over time, has attempted to push everything spiritual out of our lives by boiling things down to their smallest parts, and reducing miracles into something explainable within science or reason. Soul has been reduced to "human behavior" and "genetic determinants," and the job of explaining the "meaning of life" has been turned over from clergy to scientists.
Thankfully, books like this one, and countless others, are helping to restore the bonds of spirit and matter, mind and body during this post-modern era. The self-destructive chasm between the holy and the ordinary that has plagued us for centuries seems to be narrowing, and many are realizing that "how and where and why" we connect with the Sacred is a unique, personal experience that can't be confined or restrained to any one way of doing things.
For instance, one person may find a powerful connection to the Sacred by attending Mass regularly, experiencing a unique connection to God via the recitation of ritualistic prayers. Another person might connect with the Sacred by listening to a music, or taking a walk in the woods, and yet another person might find the Sacred in reading poetry or laughing with friends over dinner.
I connect with the Sacred in a variety of ways, the most stunning and powerful of which are the unexpected gifts I receive when I least expect them. Like the bright pink sky at sunset when I step outside to light the barbecue, or the bright full moon rising last night as we went out to walk our dogs. I also connect with the Sacred in expected and intentional ways, like Sunday morning worship, or listening to a particular piece of music that touches my soul.
How do you connect with the Sacred? Buy this book, keep it close at hand ~ and keep your eyes and ears and heart open, you might just be surprised.