There are times in our lives when the ordinary expressions of Christian spirituality feel hollow and glib. Such moments lead us to rediscover the deeper parts of our humanity. Traditionally this has been done through participation in the sacraments.
The word “sacrament” literally means “the secret mystery” and is a combination of Latin (secare, meaning “to sanctify”) and Greek (mysterion, meaning “mystery”). There are seven sacraments in the Catholic Church, but these do not exhaust the fullness of Christ’s mystery in the world around us or, for that matter, through us.
Growing up as a Charismatic I was always surprised to see people leave the vibrant and exciting worship of Pentecostalism for the seemingly austere and bland liturgies of the Catholic Church. Eventually I came to realize they found such exuberant worship unfulfilling, whereas the sacred rights of the Catholic Church felt deeply significant because of their connection with Creation. This was the first time I realized there was an inherent connection between sacrament and element—between the sacred mysteries of Christ and the raw materials of our world: water (baptism), fire (votives, candles, bonfires), earth (ash, oil, wine), and air (incense, the wind).
As I begin designing sacramental interactives in non-liturgical settings, I realized that, in addition to being elemental, the most meaningful experiences were also sensual. They involve our whole selves as all five experiences come alive: sight, hearing, taste, touch, and smell.
We should never forget our initial connection to Creation. Adam was made from the dust of the earth (Adam’ah). God breathed his Spirit (wind) into him and called him to life. On the day of Pentecost, Christ’s followers were baptized with fire, and it is water baptism that signifies our repentance and allegiance to God.
The next time you feel as though your spirituality has become insubstantial, may I humbly recommend you take some time to contemplate the sensual and elemental nature of sacramental ministry. Get your hands dirty. Get your feet wet. Pray outdoors. Set a fire and watch it burn. Taste and see that The Lord is good. Do this in remembrance of me.