Monday, March 8, 2010

Incredibly Sacred

Anybody with children has probably seen the Pixar film, The Incredibles. It tells the story of two super-heroes, Mr. Incredible and Elastigirl, who get married and then to into a super-hero relocation program after the trial lawyers turn public sentiment against the "supers." The two have children and try to raise them in anonymity.

There is a scene in the film where their son, Dash, who has the gift of super-speed, is frustrated that he is not allowed to use his ability. He has a special gift, he argues, to which his mother replies that everyone's special. "Which is another way of saying no one is," he answers glumly.

Why do I bring up this scene from the Incredibles? Because of something that I read this weekend, in which the author was trying to assert that "everything is sacred: all places, all of creation, all of the times in our lives are sacred." To apply Dash's logic, that means that nothing is.

I can agree that all of creation is good, and can lead to an encounter with God. It's possible to meet God in a grove of trees. But in that case, you don't encounter God there because the grove is sacred, the grove becomes sacred because that is where you encounter God. When Moses encountered the burning bush, the voice told him to remove his shoes, because he was standing on sacred ground. This is sacred ground. When Moses left the area and left the presence of God, he was, presumably, no longer on sacred ground, and could place his shoes back on his feet.

Every sacramental celebration is an encounter with the divine and is, therefore, sacred. They typically take place is a consecrated space - a space set aside in a special way for sacramental celebrations. The consecration makes the space (i.e,, the church or chapel) sacred. When we start speaking in the language of universal sacredness, we risk losing our appreciation for the unique character of the truly sacred. If the grocery store is sacred, then why not offer mass in the bread aisle?

I hope that the words I quoted were just not well chosen, and that they would be withdrawn and revised if questioned. It is representative, however, of a dangerous attitude. We cannot afford to treat the good as sacred, nor can we afford to treat the sacred as merely good.

Remember how we started with the Incredibles? Well, the villain in the Incredibles is an inventor who goes by the name of Syndrome. Just before he's captured by Syndrome, Mr. Incredible learns that Syndrome has killed off nearly every other super. "You mean you killed off real heroes so that you could *pretend* to be one?" Syndrome replies, "Oh, I'm real. Real enough to defeat you! And I did it without your precious gifts, your oh-so-special powers. I'll give them heroics. I'll give them the most spectacular heroics the world has ever seen! And when I'm old and I've had my fun, I'll sell my inventions so that *everyone* can have powers. *Everyone* can be super! And when everyone's super-- [chuckles evilly] --no one will be."

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