The Sacred Is Awkwardly Closer Than You Think
The world doesn't stop being sacred because we start to understand it - and that's mostly because understanding is not a relation of exteriority or of final approximations, but of ongoing participation.
The Sacred Is Awkwardly Closer Than You Think
By Adebayo Akomolafe / bayoakomolafe.net

I'm in London, where I will be giving a public talk on the awkward immanence of the sacred...or the idea that the 'sacred' is not exterior to, fundamentally de-linked from, or outside the everyday. Yes, even the banal. Or that intuition is not the adversarial 'other' of intellect. One way I think is useful to talk about this, beyond merely insisting that enchantment is not in short supply, is to recall the events around Halley's Comet's passing in the mid-18th century.

In the sixteenth century, Copernicus had published his dissertation on the sun being the calculated centre of the universe, and not the earth. His work hadn't yet infected popular culture, but it inspired Edmund Halley (centuries later) to try to advance a theory about the passing of a comet. Halley's bold thesis was that the comets that had been reported in previous observations, and on different occasions hundreds of years before his work, were the same one - just one comet. He calculated that the comet made appearances every 75th year, and would show up in 1758. Halley didn't get to see his prediction come to pass (or fail to come to pass) since he died 16 years earlier in 1742. What's interesting here isn't to affirm that the comet - later named in his honour - did show up in 1758, it was the religio-political context surrounding his work.

In those days, London was a lot different: people saw the earth as central in the universe...a testimony to a grand creator's infinite benevolence. The advent of science - with its postured repudiation of anything not rational or logically derived or empirically supported as nonsense - seemed to threaten religious interpretations of 'reality'.

According to one account I have since lost touch of, people were fond of seeing 'comets' as angels on errand. Halley's shocking prediction thus became a line drawn in the sand, because if he was right, then what use did people have of a creator 'God'? Could God himself and the little space science had allocated to him (now in the heavens) be totally snuffed out? How do we meet the sacred if it is nowhere to be found - totally exiled by the regular?

For us today, dyed in a machine-saturated world, meeting the sacred feels even more urgent. For old Londoners, the sacred evoked ideas of spontaneous irreverence - of order, but at least order premised on an 'Orderer', whose supreme will was the real activator behind things. Regularity and predictability were therefore evidence of the absence of the sacred, because regularity is the logical extension of machinistic determinism, and determinism is where the wild things fear to step into. One way post-Halley theologians dealt with the cognitive dissonance prompted by science's stunning success was to perch God atop this new pyramidal order of regular things, which science was eminently in touch with. But this proves unflattering and inadequate to more robust notions of the sacred. This went further, I think, in dissociating the sacred from matter, from the carnal, from the familiar, from boring stuff - making it something spectacular, only to be seen once in a while, before the ordinary continues its drip-drip-dripping monologue of no real consequence.

The question is: why is regularity or even predictability so resistant to our notions of the sacred? Why can't laptops, hand-held devices, the brown smooth things produced by McDonald's (in the name of food), and even 'evil' little things like neoliberalism be inducted into our hall of sacred fame? The problem here is a problem of frames. The trick, at least with the politics of Halley's Comet in 1758, is examining the conditions that make 'regularity' possible.

We still imagine that we are immersed in some kind of Euclidean construct where spatio-temporal relations (or space-time) are already worked out - or 'objective', in the sense of being 'true...no matter who'. So, regularity, duration, and the seemingly forward movement of time become a property of the world outside of experience; we fail to notice how we are complicit in the 'co-production' of regularity. How our bodies, our increasingly homogenized systems of thinking and seeing, our economic imperatives, our sciences and discursive practices are all involved in 'granting' regularity to 'non-sacred scientific events'.

Time isn't 'out there', already pre-given or predetermined; many studies suggest many non-humans with faster metabolism experience time in slow-motion (https://www.scientificamerican.com/…/small-animals-live-in…/). You might counter by saying the experience of time is different from the 'reality of time' - and even if that were not the case, duration (which hardly concerns itself with how much time has elapsed as it does with the fact of sequences and frequency) is the concern here. To that, I would say that even duration is a bodily secretion - a performative enactment of visual modes, cognitive apparatuses, and environmental constraints. Nothing 'is' that is not 'with'.

What is of consequence here is noticing that the sacred happens 'in between'. It is not a property of things, the label of a body posture, a certain way of seeing or talking, eating vegetarian foods (thankfully, my hosts here just filled me up with good meat), a workshop, or pulling off a 'namaste' when greeting someone. And yet it is all of these - and that's not a paradox, because, again, the question of the sacred or the question of what matters is one without a decidable answer. It is the indeterminacy of it all, the promiscuity of boundaries, the con-fusion, that makes the sacred already integral (not supplementary) to how the world continues mattering. The world doesn't stop being sacred because we start to understand it - and that's mostly because understanding is not a relation of exteriority or of final approximations, but of ongoing participation. The old Londoners who despaired at the passing of a comet were part of a 'larger' articulation of the sacred that is trapped in a tradition of fuzzy, distant (and therefore mystical) entities; the familiar, the near, is just as fuzzy - just as shape-shiftingly lascivious.

I suspect that we are witnessing (or rather 'with-ness-ing') the changing ontology of the sacred, a rescuing of what matters from its onto-theological moorings. This is not a quixotic issue of willful construction; I am not saying "let's go out there and change the sacred, godammit!". I'm saying different temporalities, currents, flows and winds are a-stir. The awkward is taking on a beautiful graciousness that wasn't present (in its contemporary forms) in previous times. The awkward is coming back, like an old comet becoming new.

So, here's a prediction...

Bayo Akomolafe

0.0 ·
0
What's Next
Trending Today
This Polish Ad Will Give You The Feels, For Reals
3 min · 15,689 views today · This is an ad for Allegro, a Polish company similar to eBay, and it's heartwarmingly lovely.
Time-Lapse Satellite Images Give a Startling Snapshot of Past 30 Years on Earth
2 min · 13,811 views today · Working with satellite images from NASA and the US Geological Survey, Google has created a searchable snapshot of the past 3 decades on Earth, creating startling time-lapses of...
6 Toxic Relationship Habits Most People Think Are Normal
Mark Manson · 12,076 views today · There’s no class in high school on how to not be a shitty boyfriend or girlfriend. Sure, they teach us the biology of sex, the legality of marriage, and maybe read a few...
Ten Ways We Misunderstand Children
Jan Hunt · 6,038 views today · 1. We expect children to be able to do things before they are ready. We ask an infant to keep quiet. We ask a 2-year-old to sit still. We ask a 3-year-old to clean his room...
Dr. Maya Angelou: Love Liberates
5 min · 5,095 views today · Words to live by from Dr. Maya Angelou. Love each other.
The Problem with Hating Our Enemies
Charles Eisenstein · 2,487 views today · He who fights too long against dragons becomes a dragon himself; and if thou gaze too long into the abyss, the abyss will gaze into thee. —Nietzsche
The Myth of Positivity: Why Your Pain Holds a Mighty Purpose
umair haque · 2,142 views today · Of all the great myths of contemporary life, one of the most toxic is positivity. It says: there are negative and positive emotions, and only the positive ones are worth...
15 Easy Things You Can Do to Help When You Feel Like Shit
Maritsa Patrinos · 1,233 views today · You don’t have to tackle it all at once.
The Lid Is off, The Truth Is Coming Out
Charles Eisenstein · 1,186 views today · It is getting harder to keep a secret these days. The collective shadow of our society, once safely relegated to the dark basement of the unmentionable, is now exposed to...
John Lennon's "Imagine," Made Into a Comic Strip
John Lennon. Art by Pablo Stanley · 1,156 views today · This is easily the best comic strip ever made.  Pabl
Have You Heard of The Great Forgetting? It Happened 10,000 Years Ago & Completely Affects Your Life
Daniel Quinn · 1,051 views today · (Excerpted from the book, The Story of B) With every audience and every individual, I have to begin by making them see that the cultural self-awareness we inherit from our...
How to Expose Trump's Dastardly Bait-And-Switch
Robert Borosage · 1,045 views today · Trump is not an economic populist, he’s just playing one on TV.
Today I Rise: This Beautiful Short Film Is Like a Love Poem For Your Heart and Soul
4 min · 1,017 views today · "The world is missing what I am ready to give: My Wisdom, My Sweetness, My Love and My hunger for Peace." "Where are you? Where are you, little girl with broken wings but full...
Sleaford Mods on Brexit Britain
4 min · 985 views today · In early 2014 the Guardian hailed duo Sleaford Mods as ‘the most uncompromising British protest music made in years’. Here, we go backstage at a Sleaford Mods gig in their...
Why You Should Stop Apologizing for Doing All That You Can
Kelly Hayes · 600 views today · I’ve noticed lately that a lot of allies and accomplices I talk to about NoDAPL and other struggles will name what they are trying to contribute to the cause, and then promptly...
The White Man in That Photo
Riccardo Gazzaniga · 577 views today · Sometimes photographs deceive. Take this one, for example. It represents John Carlos and Tommie Smith’s rebellious gesture the day they won medals for the 200 meters at the...
A Hauntingly Beautiful Short Film About Life and Death
5 min · 503 views today · The Life of Death is a touching handdrawn animation about the day Death fell in love with Life.
8 Reasons Young Americans Don't Fight Back: How the US Crushed Youth Resistance
Bruce E. Levine · 479 views today · Traditionally, young people have energized democratic movements. So it is a major coup for the ruling elite to have created societal institutions that have subdued young...
Black on Black Crime Isn't a Myth
Donyae Coles · 449 views today · Let’s talk about Black on Black crime. Maybe you’ve heard about it on the news, specifically likely in regards to Black people murdered by other Black people. Perhaps you’ve...
The Top 100 Documentaries We Can Use to Change the World
Films For Action · 408 views today · A more beautiful, just and sustainable world is possible. Take this library and use it to inspire global change!
Load More
Like us on Facebook?
The Sacred Is Awkwardly Closer Than You Think