I enjoy dabbling in Eastern religion. No, not the Buddhist/Hindu kind — the Eastern Orthodox variety. Reading Alexander Schmemann and Vladimir Klossky provides a good perspective on some things, especially the nature of sacraments. I was reminded of this while rereading Schmemann’s article “Worship in a Secular Age.”†
He makes a valuable distinction in this article as he looks at the blessing of water for baptism and asks what is occurring. Is the priest consecrating a profane thing or is he revealing the consecrated nature of the thing? He advocates the latter.
We could ask the question also of the person being baptized. What is happening? Is a change occurring from one type to another, or is the sin being cleansed to reveal what was hidden by it all along? The liturgy indicates the latter, and I suspect that most people would agree. This distinction is important because it colors how we view everything around us.
Looking across my lawn, it occurs to me that dirt, in this fashion, is also sacramental. It holds enormous potential; place a seed within it and by God’s grace it will turn into a daffodil, or a tree, or grass. Yet, it is not the seed alone. The seed takes from the dirt and transforms it. The seed reveals the potential of the stuff that makes up the soil.
So it is with everything. We are told in the first chapter of Genesis that God made all things good. They are all the work of his hands, the fruit of his thoughts. Since he is infinitely good, how can they be anything but good? Not just good as in acceptable, but profoundly, deeply good.
When these things function as God created them, they are pleasing to him, fulfilling their purpose in being created. The drops of rain on the cedar tree in the morning light. The hummingbird with its iridescent feathers and whirring wings. These are revealing what God created them to do by fulfilling it. In this way, they are fulfilling their function and serving as a means of grace — at least to me as I look at them and am filled with wonder at their creator.
Of course we cannot discuss sacraments without considering the Eucharist. The wonder, at least in part, should not be that we take special bread and special wine and say special things to make them something special. The wonder is that all bread and all wine have this potential, to be the body and the blood of Christ.
The bread of my sandwich at lunch holds within it this same potential. My glass of wine with dinner does as well. We live in a grace-saturated world where everything is created by God for his glory, to point to him, to reveal him to us, to be sign and symbol of his presence with us.
May he give us eyes to see, ears to hear, hands to touch, and tongues to taste. May we be struck by the wonder of the potential all around us and give fitting praise to our creator.
† First published in St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly, Vol 16, No 1 (1972). Reprinted in For the Life of the World.