the meaning of sacrifice

~ And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice.

I'm not a Christian but I have struggled my whole life to understand the meaning of "sacrifice", the mystery of the cross, and the human obsession with offering blood (goats, lamb, body parts or whole persons) to atone for our human condition.

Raised by hard-working parents who loved us well but, like many of their generation, reminded us daily that they bore the cost of our privilege and good fortune, I rejected and was unwilling to pass that burden on to my own children.  So in my twenties, I completed a Master's thesis entitled "Le Sacrifice et la Générosité; Réflexion sur Autrui" that skewered the notion of sacrifice in favour of generosity as an act of giving from the feeling of abundance rather than from the pinch of obligation. If this was not love for another, I thought, at least it was not a need for personal atonement.

Still I found myself drawn to churches, returning over the years with wonder and an inexplicable thirst for what was inside of them.

I could not understand the cross, confession or the ritual of communion, and saw in the expectant lineup of believers nothing more than a convoy of confessed failures and neuroses seeking redemption in a tiny piece of bread that dissolved in your mouth the minute you turned around, and was completely digested and excreted by the following Sunday.

I have prayed to understand.

Today, Labour day Sunday, I had a breakthrough (and I am grateful to my friend Oscar the Wild who let me break down a little last night to allow the light to shine through, because it comes down to that):

"Sacrifice" means SACRED ACT and "picking up the cross" following your heart by listening to that "still, small voice" that just knows what is good, what is right, what is love.

In this we are bound to encounter, in ourselves and the world, resistance in the form of misconceptions, fears and defenses which stand in the way of breaking us open to live that truth. (Hence perhaps the misguided notion that sacrifice is about suffering, and the cross about dangling from nails in perpetuity.)  But the story doesn't end there. It ends with the resurrection, the reunion with the source of life that renews us from within every time we are true to ourselves.

Sacrifice is living.

(Amen to that!)


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