The term “sacrosanct” is something I learned from violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter.
She got into the news for stopping her performance in the middle because an audience member, sitting in the front row, held up her phone to film the moment. She addressed the audience member by inviting them to either put their phone away or she would leave the stage.
Her reason: we must do everything possible to keep ourselves available for sacrosanct moments.
Here is a link to the story and a conversation with Anne-Sophie Mutter. WARNING: the video is long and Mutter is very cool.
It’s meaning is when the sacred and the human sync together in a moment. Therefore, these things/moments/places must be highly protected and must be treated with the utmost respect. For Anne-Sophie, the concert hall has the possibility for the audience and the performer, through the experience of Great Music, can experience a Holy moment. Churches can also be a place where the Divine and the Common connect.
The problem with these sacrosanct moments is that you can only plan to allow, do the work for the possibility of these moments. If you seek to control, duplicate, engineer, or mastermind then you would be tempted to produce more, commodify, and make all moments Holy…thus cheapening the moment when God does decide to make an appearance.
Disneyland used to have a sign outside of its parking lot promising it to be “The Happiest Place on Earth”. This is an example of when a corporation seeks to control, mass produce, and commodify sacrosanct moments. For it is promised: every day here will be the most important memory of your family’s history.
Of course, in my profession (an Anglican Priest), there is a temptation to engineer and control sacrosanct moments. As a youth pastor, I used to hate going to retreats, conferences, or concerts where the person on stage would declare, “God is going to do something big in your life! Who believes God is going to do something big tonight?!?!”
The audience would cheer. I would mumble, “Probably not.”
It wasn’t because I lacked faith, but that promising God would do something amazing robbed Him of being Lord and boss. What if God just wanted me to hear some fun songs and spend time with my teens? That’s not something big, but important nonetheless.
Of course, the other extreme attitude towards the sacrosanct is that we must do nothing to arrive at these moments, that God will show up when God does, and that we just need to do more of more of the same to have these encounters.
It’s kind of a “spirituality by default”. It’s an “accidental blessing”. It requires no intention, no lifestyle change, and no work on the part of the believer.
This is a default, I believe, we struggle in Western Spirituality. We know God can “meet me where I am” so therefore we expect God always to show up when it works best for us. And yet, this isn’t found in the Scripture. Nowhere does it say, “Sit and watch God come to you.”
There has to be effort.
Here’s an old story from the Korean church in North America:
Once upon a time, a man was led by God to climb the mountain near his house and pray for an hour before the sun rose. The first morning, he got up in darkness and hiked up the mountain. He prayed for an hour. And God spoke to the man.
The next morning, the man hiked up half of the mountain and had a thought: “If God could speak to me at the top of the mountain, then surely God can speak to me halfway up the mountain. The distance of a mountain does not matter to an all-powerful God?” He prayed halfway up the mountain for an hour. And God spoke to the man.
The next morning, the man stood at the foot of the mountain. “If,” the man reasoned. “God could speak to me halfway up the mountain, then surely God can speak to me at the base of the mountain. The distance is no different to God.” The man prayed…for fifty minutes. And God spoke to the man.
The next morning, the man slept in and did not rise until the sun did. He did not pray. And God did not speak to the man.
This is the balance of the sacrosanct moments: we cannot make them happen and we also must do something to be available when they occur. God enjoys cooperation, sharing, and collaboration. This is the heart of these moments.
I experienced this as I came down to California to participate in my mother’s memorial.
My Mom passed away on June 10th of this year. She was shy of her 83rd birthday by 3 days.
We couldn’t participate in any kind of memorial service back then because I had a blood clot due to a hip replacement, so we had to wait for the “all clear” from the doctors…which was for October.
I wanted my family with me. Primarily, I felt I needed the support during this time. Secondarily, I wanted them to be connected to the remainder of my family. Lastly, I thought going to California.
We, like most Canadians who visit California, overbooked and over-planned our trip. We packed too much in, removed a couple of days, and then added some more.
We added Disneyland and a day at Universal Studios. Also the beach at Santa Cruz. Maybe some redwood forests. With a dash of coastal driving. Oh, by the way, we’d attend my Mom’s memorial service.
Why Disneyland? My kids can’t think of California without thinking of that place. Plus, my Mom used to take me and my brother there when she would come and visit her mother in La Habra. The same thing for Universal Studios, although my girls had never been and was anxious in visiting Harry Potter.
Everything else was, well, everything else.
The night before we were going to fly down, I prayed to God. “I don’t think I’m going to accomplish any of my goals. I think we’re just going to be busy. That’s it.”
We flew down late, shuttled to our hotel, and spent 2 days in the Disneyland parks. We had been there two years prior, when I was still an Evangelical pastor and I desperately needed a hip replacement. I was unhappy then, trying my best to be there for my family. Now, two years later, I was healthy, happy, Anglican, and the only thing held me back was my “Grief Brain”.
“Grief Brain” is a thing that happens to us when we experience loss, however sudden or expected. Your brain, dealing with the cognitive reality of being without someone (or something) spends more of its time compensating instead of the usual, day-to-day operations. The greater the grief, the more difficult the bereaved has to operate simple, quick decisions.
For me, I forget names and simple habits that I usually do. As an Anglican Priest, I found myself forgetting a prayer or a certain hand movement in my church’s liturgy. For those whose loss may be significant, so the forgetfulness is significant (IE. showing up to the funeral and forgetting to wear pants).
The good news is that the brain finally stops compensating and adjusts to the new normal when it comes to habits, reactions, and procedures. The bad news is that life is more than just habits and the bigger issues of who we are can be forever different due to loss.
I’m naturally forgetful when it comes to procedures, so my family didn’t notice anything too out of the ordinary. I had a co-worker once ask me if I had fallen in-love. I looked at her confused and told her no. She then asked, “Then why did you leave the door open?” This we 25 years ago and we were security for a Middle School. We had one job to do: keep the doors closed.
However, “Grief Brain” is funny. It’s that sense, relationally, when you are spending time with someone grieving and they don’t feel like they’re “really there”. Neurologically, they’re not. Most of their brain’s RAM and memory is being spent configuring a new program. And while the gears are spinning, they may be 52% available.
Here’s a link:
This spooked me because I wanted to be fully present for my family and, also, fully present in the moment of grieving for my Mom. I, in other words, did not want to miss a moment of the sacrosanct experience.
How do I cooperate with my “Grief Brain” while at Disneyland with the kids?
I had to pray. “God,” I asked on the first day. “I can’t do this. I can’t take the space I need to be with my family, grieve my Mom, and be here as I am unless you do something. Like I pray in the ‘Lord’s Prayer’: ‘Give us our daily bread’. If this is going to work, you will have to give me these grief moments like you give me my daily. I will watch and wait, but I can’t make any of this happen.”
Two sacrosanct moments happened:
On the first day, we went to the new Star Wars Land. We stood forty-five minutes in line to pilot the Millennium Falcon. In the last ten minutes, my youngest got scared and wanted to leave the line. My wife took her out while the eldest had to use the washroom. I sat there next to a worker for twelve minutes, waiting for my eldest to return for the ride.
A memory flashed, it was me playing with my Star Wars action figures. Most of my Christmas presents were around this toy line. I had the Millennium Falcon and always felt a bit robbed because it only had a section of the ship and a cardboard backdrop for the rest. I had always wanted to get, with my action figures, into more of the ship.
And, by the way, they were action figures; not dolls.
My Mom called them dolls. She tried her hardest to understand this world of the rebellion, spaceships, and creatures. She’d find my action figures throughout the house, have names for some of them, and had her clear favourites. One time, I found some of her favourites on our kitchen table. I asked her why and her response was, “Oh, some of my friends were over for drinks and I had to show them how neat some of your dolls were.”
They are Action Figures, Mom.
Suddenly, through the magic of Disney, I was stepping into one of my favourite toys ever. And if my Mom could be there, she would be excited with me. Instead, I was doing this with one of my kids.
That realization was a sacrosanct moment.
The second happened after our stay at Disney when we went to Universal Studios. After a day, running around in Hogwarts, we left and had dinner. Everyone was tired, except my youngest. In a mall just outside of the park, there was a bunch of ground sprinklers shooting from the concrete illuminated by coloured LED lights. The water and the lights worked together to make shapes patterns.
My daughter, along with a group of bored children, ran and danced through the waters and lights. I volunteered myself to be her lifeguard during the time, as we waited for our name to be called at the restaurant.
I started crying. There was a joy to her, as she danced and jumped and splashed. It was the moment that was joyful, nothing leading to it and it wasn’t building up to anything. Simple, uncoerced joy. Much like what we, as Anglicans, teach about Heaven: there will be joy in the afterlife simply because we are the presence of the Lord and no other reason.
My Mom, at that moment, was in that joy; my daughter, in Universal City Walk, was also in that joy. I was in between the two, feeling grief.
I cried and laughed and watched and listened and cried again.
The day of the memorial service was one of many sacrosanct moments.
We decided not to do a church service. My Mom did not attend any church and had her greatest moments with God through her AA meetings. We decided to run it like a meeting. No one was in charge (although my brother and his wife were the one who did all of the crazy work behind the scenes so it didn’t look like anyone was in charge). We had an open microphone time for sharing. Our kids read some of the prayers from “One Day at A Time”. And my brother and I did the eulogies.
I performed a shortened version of this as my eulogy:
We released doves. We had a slide show. And we showed the video of scattering her ashes.
The scattering of ashes had a lot of meaning. It was my brother’s idea. We went up in a plane and passed by the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. Along the bay that emptied into the Pacific Ocean, the airplane scattered them from a device we could access in the cockpit.
I poured the ashes and gave a blessing from the Book of Common Prayer. I then cried again.
Here’s the link of Mom’s last flight:
When the ashes were scattered, the pilot then began to point out all of the cool features of San Francisco Bay: Alcatraz, Muir Woods, the ocean, boats, etc..
At first, I didn’t want to enjoy it. Then I remembered what this place meant for my Mom. She was a Flight Attendant with TWA and this was one of her hubs. She loved looking at this place through her cabin’s window. And she always wanted to share this view with us kids and with anyone who could be in this position.
I stopped grieving and enjoyed the “ain’t it cool” moment of flying in a Cessna over the ocean.
That moment was shared.
When I delivered the eulogy, I was afraid. I didn’t want to break down, collapse in a fit of “ugly crying” and be unable to finish the stories. I prayed, once again, “I can’t do this, God. You make the moment.”
I delivered the message and did fine until the very last paragraph, where I talked about her passing peacefully and joyfully. I couldn’t take it. The sharpness in my throat, the shake of my shoulders…it all took over.
Looking back, the tears were part of the eulogy. My words were bright, brave, and hopeful; the grief was something else, reminding us that hope and sadness synchronize together in humanity.
The stories shared became a reflection of other’s sacrosanct moments concerning my Mom. Together, they formed a mosaic of what God did with her, what she left behind, and what we do now as a result.
Sacrosanct moments exist as God shows up to commune with people. The moments these happen shape, direct, guide, and allow us to treasure them because, in all honesty, they don’t come every day and they don’t come when we demand from them. If they were common, ordered, engineered, and insisted upon, they would neither be sacramental or in sync with our needs.