Breaking out of the immanent frame
by Ken Myers
“By describing this world as a sacred gift to be received and shared, a moral and spiritual topography emerges that situates and orients people in their places in ways that emphasize attention, care, and respect for life that is only ever life together. To narrate the world as created is to affirm that reality is fundamentally good and beautiful, and a graced realm that is both hospitable to and generative of fresh and diverse life.
“In a divinely created world, people are simultaneously affirmed as beloved creatures that are of inestimable value and worth, and that need and depend on others and God. To be a creature is to know that you are not the source of your own life but must constantly receive it in the varying forms of birth, nurture, healing, inspiration, and kinship. It is also to know that you are born — finite, vulnerable, and mortal. . . . [T]he character of a distinctly human life is transformed when examined through the lens of a receiving-giving dynamic. The point of a human life changes if it affirms the good of our shared, creaturely need. No longer committed to varying versions of escape from or domination of this world — many of which are inspired by a pervasive discontent with life’s finitude and frailty — human creatures can live with others in places in ways that contribute to the healing and beautification of this world and its life. The fundamental task is to develop the improvisational skills and the artistic capacities that create homes, communities, economies, and built environments in which the diversity of places and creatures can prosper together. As Makoto Fujimura has recently described it, this essential work of making is not restricted to utilitarian functioning or repairing what is broken but is about participating in the divine creating power that transfigures brokenness into newness of life. When people make good and beautiful things, they affirm that this world is worthy of our attention, love, and skill. I call this task humanity’s enduring sacred vocation.
“To say that life is sacred is not to say that this world and its creatures are divine. It is, instead, to signal that places, ranging from wetlands and oceans to farm fields and city neighborhoods, and creatures, ranging from earthworms and raspberry shoots to bees and people, are the embodied expressions of a divine affirmation and intention that desires for them to be and to thrive. . . . [T]his means that this life is not simply the object of God’s love; it is — in ways that remain incomprehensible to us — also the material manifestation of a divine energy that gives and nurtures and encourages diverse life without ever being exhausted or fully contained in the expression of any of its embodied forms.
“In addition, to affirm that life is sacred is not to say that people will inevitably recognize it as such. . . . [A]n affirmation of life’s sacred character depends on the cultivation of capacities and habits that position people to come into the presence of others in ways that affirm their mysterious gratuity and grace. To acknowledge the sanctity of another’s life is not to cast a general spiritual veneer or glow over them but to discover in their particularity the never-to-be-repeated-again expression of a divine love that delights in their becoming the unique beings that only they can become. It is to perceive in them an inexhaustible depth and sanctity that solicits attention, commands respect, and invites celebration. Recognition of this sort does not happen in contexts animated by the will to comprehend, appropriate, or control. If people hope to experience one another and their shared places as sacred gifts, everything will depend on developing the sympathetic, affective, and cognitive capacities that, along with the practices of study and care, open them to a world that, although wounded and in need of healing, is the place of God’s abiding attention and love.”
— from Norman Wirzba, This Sacred Life: Humanity’s Place in a Wounded World (Cambridge University Press, 2021). Norman Wirzba talked about this book on Volume 154 of the Journal.