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WHAT IS THE SACRED? How can we strengthen our relationship with the sacred?

These questions are explored in this Fall 2017 issue of Parabola. The English word sacred arises from the Latin word sacrum, which to the Romans meant what belonged to the gods or was in their power, within the temple. The profane, by contrast, or profanum in Latin, meant what was in front of the temple, and therefore outside of it. And so we often think of the sacred as that which is set apart—a place like an altar, a cemetery, or the Wailing Wall; an object like a Quran or a monk’s robe; a teaching like that of The Lord’s Prayer.

There is a more inclusive approach to the sacred as well. In traditional indigenous understanding, nature—including all life but also the land, the seas, the sky—is sacred.  As the Sioux writer Ohiyesa says in our opening pages, “The Great Mystery is…in earth and the water, heat and cold, rocks and trees, sun and sky; and he is also in us.”

Yet not all is sacred. We may intuit, for instance, that waging war is not sacred per se, although there may be wars fought in a sacred cause. We sense the same about banking, about sports, about indoor plumbing and Oreos and artificial intelligence. In David Ulrich’s essay that begins this issue, we can easily distinguish between the beautiful Hawaiian island considered sacred by many, and the bombs that litter it after decades of war games and that so clearly desecrate it.

In another essay here, Michel Conge, who studied with G.I. Gurdjieff, speaks of a “divine spark”—an image that appears in every tradition in some form. Without that spark, that connection to and embodiment of the divine, there is no sacredness. That connection is nearly infinite in variety, and so in this issue we are able to consider the sacred from multiple perspectives. There are interviews with a Sufi sheikh and with a man who lived with a black bear; meditations by a rabbi and an encounter with a Christian pilgrim who prays incessantly to Jesus; lessons from the Hindu classic the Bhagavad Gita, insights from the Baha’i faith, wisdom from Dostoyevsky and Plato.

We hope you will enjoy and benefit from this issue of Parabola. May it help us all to live in remembrance of the sacred.

—Jeff Zaleski

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VOL. 42:3 The Sacred
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