I am delighted to share another beautiful submission to the Monk in the World guest post series from the community. Read on for CJ Shelton’s reflection Reclaiming Our Sense of the Sacred.
On summer mornings I often wake to the sound of birds singing their first tentative greetings to the dawn’s early light, the soft beams of which filter through the curtains swaying in a gentle breeze.
My cat, happily ensconced on a thick pile of blankets, yawns deeply, and stretches right out to the very tips of each toe. I envy that stretch and try to mimic it although, I admit, not very successfully. No matter … it is still wonderful to feel my own bones and muscles flex, even if they can’t quite match her suppleness.
As a small gust of wind billows out the curtains, I glimpse the peachy glow of the morning sky and know if I were to get up, I would probably see the neighbourhood bunnies out enjoying an early breakfast of greens on the fragrant, dew-covered lawn.
It is simple moments like these that delight. That inspire. That are sacred.
I do my best to find such moments whenever I can … backlit leaves against a blue-drenched sky. Fiddleheads unfurling in the forest. A joyous burst of evensong from a cardinal. A heron gliding on long, graceful wings.
And of course, there is always the continuous enchantment of living with a feline. My beautiful girl is sixteen now and sleeps most of the time, but still has completely spontaneous moments of the “cat-crazies”, those sudden bursts of tearing around like some invisible spirit is in hot pursuit.
Although I’m not nearly as old as her cat-years yet, I too seem to need a little more rest between playtimes than I used to. I also find myself envying that she doesn’t have a care in the world beyond where dinner and the next comfortable sitting spot is, while I am faced with the challenges of living in an increasingly complicated world.
We are all reeling from what has been multiples year of collective trauma: Covid, war, corrupt leadership, constant fear. We’re tired. Focusing on anything for more than a few minutes is hard work, sometimes even impossible. Our vigilance these days is spread across the environment as our brains do the cat-crazies and our attention spans last about as long as the skittish bunny’s out on the lawn.
And yet … we still want to make things. To create things. To express ourselves. To show up and contribute to this fragile world with all that is best in us.
While it can be overwhelming, I take the cue from my cat – to consciously choose what I focus on and be someone who shares a bit of light when things are looking dark. I may not always succeed but, like my less-than-perfect morning stretches, at least I am reclaiming a wee bit of the sacred for myself.
Theologian Matthew Fox says, “there is nothing wrong with the human species today except one thing – you have forgotten the sense of the Sacred”. His words underscore Thomas Berry’s sobering observation that, “if we have lost a sense of the Sacred, we are set up for despair, for depression, for apathy”.
In medieval times there was a name for this, acidia. Thomas Aquinas described acidia as “the lack of energy to begin new things”. It is often misinterpreted as being the result of sloth or laziness, a sin of the spirit. But acidia is much bigger than that. Aquinas says it comes from a “shrinking of the Mind”.
Many modern mystics believe we are experiencing acidia right now and suffering severely from anthropocentrism, the misguided conviction that human beings are the most important entity in the universe. Even Pope Francis says humanity is undergoing “a narcissism of our species”. This “shrinking of the Mind” is the natural result of an anthropocentric culture, a culture more invested in “what’s in it for me” rather than “what is in the highest and best interest of us all?”
So, what are we to do – and do right now – in the face of all this existential exhaustion?
For myself, reclaiming the sacred is essential … challenging as that is while living embedded in a society that insists on burying its head in the sand. But I look to the mystics, indigenous elders, poets, artists, and other wise folk for inspiration, to those who know how to walk lightly on our good Earth, who sing her praises and show her respect. Who know how to appreciate life’s simple moments as echoes of the Divine … like birdsong at dawn’s first light and a contented cat enjoying a comfortable resting place.
Appreciation of the beauty-in-the-moment is simple but sage advice for any of us trying to find our way back to a sense of the Sacred. To Source. To energy. And joy.
The storms of these last few years have been humbling. But I keep reminding myself that “to be humble is to befriend one’s earthiness” and all the great mystical traditions tell us that when we are humble, we create a bridge between the Earth, our psyches, and the cosmos where the sacred can flow unimpeded into every facet of our lives.
So, I will continue to strive and reclaim the sacred in the small everyday things. And to acknowledge others as sacred echoes of nature and the Divine. Because these are the things that are fully within my control; the simple things that delight. That inspire. That reconnect me to my Source.
CJ Shelton is a Visual Artist and Educator who inspires and guides others on their creative and spiritual journeys. Through her art, teaching and shamanic practices, she reveals the meaning, magic and mystery of the Great Wheel of Life. To learn more about CJ and view her work visit www.dancingmoondesigns.ca.