News

The Power of the Sacred

by Don Meyer, Ph.D. | December 13, 2008

"...sacred places are part of the complex web of our collective spiritual heritage."
"Sacred Places" in U.S. News and World Report

The holidays mean something unique for each person. For some, it means many formal events; for others it means informal events. For some, they connect with family members and friends; for others, it can be rather lonely. For some, they travel or buy things or are very religious; for others, they stay at home or make things or are hardly religious. 

But whatever one's background or even religious connections, the holidays (holy-days) always have a sacred dimension to them. 

The Meaning of Sacred. What does it mean when we say something is sacred? We actually use the word "sacred" in many ways. Places are sacred. Omaha Beach and Ground Zero and Gettysburg are sacred places. So are the old steal mill sites in Phoenixville or the site of our campus at VFCC, the former Valley Forge General Military Hospital. 

Days are sacred. From personal days like birthdays and anniversaries to National days like the 4th of July or 9/11, rich meaning saturates those calendar designations. 

People are also sacred. "Ich bin ein Berliner," said JFK (I am a Berliner). On 9/11 someone said, "We are all New Yorkers" or as an Amish man said after the tragedy at Nickel Mines, PA, "We are all Amish this week." 

The Seasons of the Sacred. We often refer to December as a "sacred season." I would suggest three important celebrations which affirm that fact. 

For some, December is sacred because of Kwanzaa, a unique African American celebration which focuses on the traditional values of family, community responsibility, commerce and self-improvement. Kwanzaa is neither political nor religious nor is it a substitute for Christmas. Rather, it reaffirms the African American people, their ancestors, and their culture. 

For others, December is sacred because of Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights. The year was 167 BC and Israel was ruled by the Syrian King, Antiochus. He wanted to make Jewish civilization as Grecian as possible but the Maccabean revolt drove them out. As the Jews cleansed the temple and lit the eternal light, they only had enough oil for one day. But miraculously it burned for eight days. 

For others, December is sacred because of Christmas. Christians believe that Jesus was born of a virgin in the humble village of Bethlehem as God incarnate who came to save the world of sin. 

The Message of the Sacred. All of these things (sacred places, days, people, and even events) tell us that life is more than places and calendars and cultural groups. There is a depth and meaning to all of us as human beings. 

So, here we are in the holiday (holy) season during which we must remember several important thoughts. First, the sacred really matters. The meaning of the holidays goes far beyond the credit cards and hustle and bustle and surface things. 

We must also remember that all sacred matters are not all the same. We all make different sounds. And the majority should not silence the minority any more than the minority should silence the majority. 

Finally, we must also remember to make our sacred sounds over and over again. Each generation is tone deaf (at birth) and we must teach them to our children and grandchildren. 

I am reminded of Victor Hugo's description of the monastery that Jean Valjean entered and the effect it had on him. "The things that now surrounded him, the peace of the garden, the scent of the flowers, the gaiety and laughter of the children, the grace and the simplicity of the nuns, the silence of the cloister, these things possessed his being until by degrees his very soul was informed by them..." 

May the power of the sacred "inform your soul" during the holiday season. 

Think about it.


Dr. Don Meyer is President of 
Valley Forge Christian College, Phoenixville, PA 
Responses can be mailed to president@vfcc.edu