The Sacred in The Secular
“Everything is secular and every secular thing is potentially religious” (Tillich, The Protestant Era, 174-175).
“Everything secular is implicitly related to the holy. It can become the bearer of the holy. The divine can become manifest in it. Nothing is essentially and inescapably secular.” (Tillich, ST1, 218).
“There is nothing so secular that it cannot be sacred…” –Madeleine L’Engle (Walking On Water, 50).As I’m reading Paul Tillich, my wife is reading Madeleine L’Engle’s book Walking On Water: Reflections On Faith and Art and as she shares with me some of the things she’s learning from L’Engle, I’m struck by the similarities between L'Engle and Tillich. In fact, as I think about it, I am struck by the little bits of Tillich I’m hearing as I read a spectrum of contemporary reflections on faith and spirituality including folks like Shane Hipps and Peter Rollins.
Beyond what Tillich does in his theological system, what is perhaps most profound about his writing is what he enables the reader to do—particularly what he enables the reader to see in everyday, mundane, ‘secular’ experiences. We don’t have to look for “facts of history” or for some hero-Jesus in religious spaces. For Tillich, all ground is essentially holy ground, since everything is soaked in the sacredness of God. We cannot escape—not even into the profane—from the God above God. And so we are invited to see the sacred in the secular… not to retreat from the world, but to engage and enter more fully into it. We are enabled to claim beauty, truth, and goodness wherever we find it. He even enables us to see the sacred in religions other than the Christian Religion.
(Tillich wants us to see "New Being" in other religions. He writes, “It is most important for the practice of the Christian ministry…to consider pagans, humanists, and Jews as members of the latent Spiritual Community and not as complete strangers…from outside” (ST3, 155).)
You can hear how Tillich has influenced popular contemporary spiritual authors such as our friend Rob Bell.
“…I imagine you’re like me in that you regularly find yourself having experiences that point past themselves to a larger reference point, to something or somewhere or sometime or someone beyond the experience itself in its most basic essence” -Rob Bell (What We Talk About When We Talk About God, 105).
The finite can communicate the infinite. Indeed, the infinite is only communicated to us through, and by means of, the finite. Life is filled with spiritual content, sacred content... filled by the God who is with us, the God who conditions our experience, the God who is for us when the God of stained-glass widows and long white robes has disappeared.