A few days ago, in a summary of his excellent article on Mormon Environmental Theology, Jason Brown asked ‘Must nature be a separate domain for its sacredness to be apparent?’ Steve Evans responded that ‘Sacredness is a human concept, attributed by humans (through God, one assumes).’ For sacredness to become ‘apparent’ it must already be present prior to becoming recognisable. Jason responds that he wants to think about how ‘to take a concept like sacredness which does imply a sort of separation (think temple) and expand it to the forest as a space where people can both pray and work.’
I agree with Steve that the sacred is not inherent to things and I also believe God has called us to expand our concept of the sacred. In this regard I have found Bushman’s reference to Jonathan Z. Smith’s notion that ‘“taking care” is one sign of sacred space’ to be useful.
This approach is fruitful because the sacred is defined through a relational form of praxis; it is grounded in an approach to social action that is aware of and sensitive to the varied associations that are implied in every interaction. Bushman uses a series of examples of how this ‘taking care’ is manifest in the way we speak about, the way we speak in and the way we maintain the temple. Our cognisance of the temple as sacred is evident in the way we interact with that space.
This approach can also apply to scripture. These texts are sacred not because they inherently contain divine power, but because of the way we as a community engage them and respond to them. We are asked to study, pray and ponder over them. We mark, re-read and question them daily. Our scripture study should reflect this ‘care’.
Service too reflects this type of practice. Taking care of another person is more than merely looking after them, it is a heightened sense of awareness of them; of their needs, wants and desires. In short, taking care is more than kind actions rather it is a deeply felt realisation of the potential influence that our life can have upon theirs.
Here, too, we return to the forest as a (potentially) sacred space. If the trees are sacred to us our lives we will reflect that care; that awareness of reciprocity.
‘“Taking care” is one sign of sacred space’.
1. Richard Bushman, Joseph Smith and Creation of the Sacred in Joseph Smith, Jr.: Reappraisals after Two Centuries, edited by Reid L. Neilson & Terryl L. Givens, Oxford: OUP, pp. 93-106.