When my first daughter was born, I was naively advised by another new father to take my camera and record the miraculous event. But I found the experience too intimate and sacred for adjusting F-stops and lenses. Her porcelain white skin coated with a sheen of blood-tinged amniotic fluid, her poppy red lips, her tiny wrinkled fingers left me in awe. I knew I was treading on holy ground. For the birth of my other two children I left my camera at home. And with each, when The Redheaded-Wildflower successively drew them to her naked, breathless breast, I witnessed a sacred bond spring to life. I saw it is not only individual lives that are sacred, but our relationships are sacred as well. How do you have a healthy, meaningful relationship: treat it as sacred.
Relationships Are Sacred?
Sacredness brings to mind cathedrals, candles, ceremonies, and holy pristine places but not relationships. Relationships are painful. Difficult. Stressful. They can even be toxic. Yet when we name something sacred we recognize God’s presence in it. A sacred candle radiates God’s light. Sacred music resounds with God’s voice and creativity. A loaf of bread and pitcher of wine become sacred when Jesus’ spiritual presence enters them. Relationships reflect God’s Holy Spirit arcing between two (or more) people. Relationships are God’s works of art painted on a human canvas. None of these vessels for God’s sacred presence need be perfect.
Sacred Relationships Flow from the Trinity
Relationships are sacred because we were created in the image of a relational, trinitarian God: Father, Son, Holy Spirit. The ancient church understood the Trinity not as an abstract idea but grounded in the concreteness of relationships. Perichoresis is the Greek term they used to express this. It describes a relationship that penetrates, connects on the deepest level and yet as Alister McGrath says, maintains “the individuality of the persons . . . while insisting that each person shares in the life of the other two.”
This is how human relationships work also. We share life, ideas, genetics, love, hopes, dreams, failures, faults with others without losing our individuality.
Jesus said it this way. “Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” The oneness and intimacy of marriage mirrors this Trinitarian truth. Two become one without losing individuality.
Created to Be Together
Being formed in God’s image means that we too are first and foremost relational. We were created to be in sacred relationship with God and one another. That does not mean only healthy relationships are sacred. Sacredness is not perfection but rather a foundation to stand on, an attitude toward a deep truth.
An unhealthy/imperfect person still reflects (no matter how dimly) the image of God and a sacredness. Sacredness is the design even if unfulfilled. Transforming an unhealthy relationship begins by affirming God’s design and desire for human interaction. God does his best work in and through people united. “God is the invisible connective tissue that brings us together,” writes Rabbi Alex Weissman.
What About Unhealthy Relationships?
Unhealthy relationships manifest when a person loses her God-created personality and voice to a dominating (maybe abusive) other. Enmeshment is not sacredness. Or when people remain in distant, non-intimate relationships and don’t influence or care for one another. Radical individualism is not scared either. Still even most unhealthy individuals strive for health. Unhealthy relationships can strive for sacredness.
When people interact with one another from God’s foundation of love, respect, and dignity, a spark ignites between us and in us that brings the living God into sharp focus and the beauty of being human alive. A sacred relationship is one where you perceive and actively cherish the God-created beauty in another.
Relational Sacredness Does Not Excuse Abuse
Because relationships are sacred does not mean you must stay in an abusive one. Rather the opposite. Sacredness then becomes a standard for what God intended and what God has called us toward. No one remains in a crumbling cathedral no matter how sacred the space has been or is considered.
People Are not Objects
Our tendency, especially when we view life as a destination filled with mile marker goals, is to begin to treat people in our lives as assets or liabilities. This is an age old problem but more so in our modern, mechanistic world.
People become cogs, gears, or monkey wrenches in what we believe should be a smooth running life. We treat people out of our need rather than by God’s sacred design. Then we use their God-given gifts as tools to accomplish our goals. And we shun, shame, or sacrifice them when their human frailties slow or block our progress.
The One Anothers and Sacred Relationships
The New Testament contains over 100 “one another” commands. The Apostle Paul accounts for more than fifty of those commanding us to love, serve, pray for, kiss, be with “one another.” Of all the deep theology Paul is famous for, this holding people and relationships as sacred is one we often miss. To our detriment. This may be because relationships are so daily and ordinary and we struggle to recognize the sacred in the mundane. We look for God in bigger more extraordinary things.
People Are Holy Ground
Like David in Psalm 8 we often ask, “What is humankind that you are mindful of us?” Our goals, desires, plans, and paychecks often feel more important than people.
David recognizes this is not God’s view. “You have made us a little lower than the angels and crowned us with glory and honor,” he writes. We are God’s beloved.
Paul knows this truth and highlights friends and friendships throughout his letters. “I thank God every time I remember you,” he writes to his friends in Philippi.
As we struggle through a world filled with tragedy, disappointment, and confusion, there is something you can do. Remember you are treading on holy ground in your relationships. With a more debased meaning Stephen Stills sang, “Love the one you’re with.” But his point can be taken. That the person next to you was created in God’s image and your relationship with that person is sacred.
Of all the things that seem urgent in our lives, the most important calling we have is to hold relationships as sacred. God states it this way: Love God and love one another!