by Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee, September 2016
First Published by Kosmos Journal
The sacred is all around us, woven with stories and starlight, in the rich texture of the soil, and in certain dreams that come on certain nights. And yet it is also hidden, fading from sight, forgotten, lost in the dramas of daylight, in the harsh light of a civilization with its ever-present smartphones and computers. This is the strangest story of our present time: that something so essential, the oxygen of the soul, is left unnoticed, even in its absence. Our culture searches for answers to so many questions—the particles of existence, the genes that make up our body—and yet leaves unasked what is most vital. What has happened to the sacred that alone can give meaning to life—the simple truth that was known to all cultures before us? Like the forests we have clear-cut centuries ago and no longer even remember, we do not know what we have lost. And we as a culture are not even asking the question, not even considering what this might mean.
The very nature of existence, of life and all of creation is sacred.1 And yet our lack of awareness, our culture’s lack of relating to creation as sacred, covers its light. It becomes more and more like a dream lost before waking. As we forget, so the light of the sacred is dimmed, becomes less and less accessible. And with this darkening, an essential quality of life also fades away.
Forgetfulness is the most potent poison, and the simple forgetfulness of the sacred nature of creation is more damaging and dangerous that we can begin to realize. It seeps into the pores of our existence, making life meaningless before it has hardly begun, before life’s bud has even begun to blossom. From the simple joy of the child in that magical moment when life awakens, now loom years, decades of forgetting. Are we doomed to spend our days in this wasteland without remembrance, as the colors fade around us as much as our wells run dry?
Symbols of the sacred have been with humanity from the very beginning, from the cave paintings of southern France, with their magical horses, bison, and even a rhinoceros. Those painters knew these animals were sacred, and some suggest that the placing of the animals reflected constellations of stars, while others think they came from visions seen in sacred trance dances. They remind us of a time when the physical and mystical were woven together, inner and outer worlds reflecting each other in the mystery of creation that belonged to all of life’s inhabitants. But as we walk our city streets, or stare at our screens, we inhabit a reality that has become empty of such wonder. Technology, as much as it has benefitted us, has also stripped us bare, its images no longer numinous. And I am left to ponder, where has it all gone, where is the note that is not heard?
The sacred is not an idea but an essential reality. Esoterically it is a substance made of light and the love of God in which the deepest secrets of creation are written. It contains the spiritual purpose of all that is, from a stone polished smooth found by the ocean to a hummingbird drinking nectar from flowers in my backyard. The substance of the sacred is woven into the fabric of existence, and belongs to the deepest promise of creation: that life is not just survival but a celebration of love. In this substance are written all of the names of creation, names that embody the individual purpose of each thing that exists, and also the oneness of which we are all a part. Without this sacred substance we would just be a physical object, a planet spinning through space, without meaning or purpose.
And yet this substance has been covered over, forgotten by a global materialistic civilization that has lost touch with its own roots in the sacred. And just as the light within a human being, the spark in the soul that carries the secret of our individual life, can be covered over by the dust of the world, so too has this sacred substance become lost in our patterns of consumerism, in our treating the world, its oceans and forests, as an object, a resource—something separate from ourselves to be made toxic through our endless desires.
When an individual loses contact with the light of their soul, when its embers are covered, almost extinguished, that person loses the opportunity for spiritual evolution. They remain imprisoned in their patterns of behavior, in their own ego or instinctual self. Life continues, but an essential ingredient that gives meaning is lost. And what happens to an individual could also happen to the whole planet, if we lose touch with what is sacred, if we no longer care for the planet with the love and prayers it needs, with the rituals known to our ancestors. Traditionally the individual is the microcosm of the whole, the lesser Adam to the greater Adam of the whole Earth. And just as we are called to look after our own soul, our own sacred self, so life calls us to be guardians of the sacred within creation. But for centuries we have been ignoring this calling, until our present time when we can hardly hear the cry of the Earth in its time of need.
And so the world is dying, dying both from our industrial exploitation, the toxins of our culture, the loss of species, and also dying from the loss of the sacred. This inner and outer devastation walk hand in hand into the abyss we are facing, even as we continue to forget. And while we can see the signs of our environmental plundering, the inner ravages of the soul and the world soul, the anima mundi, go unnoticed. We have forgotten how to read the signs—we have forgotten the language of the soul.
So I am left with the question that keeps haunting me: what will it take for us to awaken, and more important, what will it take for the world to awaken, for the song of creation to be heard once again? In that song all of life becomes alive in a new way, joy and meaning can return to the ravaged landscapes of the soul.
My own journey has taken me across many seas, to shores of light, landscapes of love. There mystery, beauty, and the sacred are part of what is natural, what is fully alive. Yet always I return to the physical world, to the ground under my feet. And I find myself with the simple question: how can we reclaim its wonder, this sense of the sacred? What pathways do we need to walk, what sacrifices do we need to make, to find again what is so essential? What is the prayer that is a real response to the cry of the Earth?
If we can hear the cry of the Earth, feel this grief in our soul, then something in our heart opens. We are not separate from the Earth, her loss is our loss, her cry our cry. Our heart becomes the Earth’s prayer that calls, and love the response to that call. We are drawn back to the simple human values of love and care—love and care for the Earth and its myriad inhabitants. More and more I believe that small things with love are what are needed—acts rooted in loving kindness—because it is in these qualities that the soul is present, and only when the soul is present can miracles happen, can magic come alive, and prayers be answered.2 And love is the greatest force in creation.
Only our love for the Earth can heal what we have devastated, redeem the inner and outer wasteland we have made through our greed and forgetfulness. It may seem too simple and idealistic, an inadequate response to the realities of ecological devastation. But love and prayer can reawaken the sacred within creation, make the ground under our feet both whole and holy. We cannot heal what we have ravaged only through science and technology, though they can help.3 But first we need to remember and return to what is sacred, to the hidden music of creation—the heartbeat of the world. Only then will our actions be in harmony with all of life, its interconnected web, and so help both humanity and the planet return into balance. Then the Earth can reawaken as the living, spiritual being it really is, and begin the work of healing itself. It can share with us its deep wisdom. We will learn to work together with the forces within nature and life’s deepest purpose.
Outside my window leaves are swaying in the late summer breeze, sunlight rippling into shade. In this simple beauty I can also see what is missing, a light that is not present. But I also sense a prayer waiting to be said, a remembrance waiting to come alive. The sacred is still around us, needing our attention, needing our love, even as it begins to fade away, covered by our forgetfulness. Hearing its cry, we are the Earth’s prayer.
1 In Sufism this is reflected in the understanding of creation as the Self-Disclosure of God, as expressed in the hadith “I was a hidden treasure and I wanted to be known, so I created the world.”
2 Some global initiatives, like the 2015 Paris climate accord on CO2 emissions, are vital. But unless they are combined with real care for the Earth (“care for our common home” per Pope Francis’ Encyclical), they have the danger of further constellating the consciousness that we are separate from the Earth that created our present predicament. Sadly they often just further support the destructive dynamic of continued economic growth.
3 Science and technology may have helped create our present destruction of the ecosystem, but I believe we can develop technologies that support life’s interdependent nature and help restore real sustainability for all of creation. See Vaughan-Lee, Technology Consciousness and the Future, https://workingwithoneness.org/audio/technology-consciousness-and-the-future/