Keep Sacred Things Sacred

If you are new to the series, I’d really appreciate if you would take a few minutes to read my preface and purpose here first.


When I first started going to Sunday school, my shoes shone like a pond in moonlight. Straps crossed at the ankle and had to be wrestled into real buckles; but it’s the socks that I want to tell you about. See, little sister had pure white socks with a frill of lace that folded down neatly at the ankles. Mine were plain white, except the time in my fifth year when Mom couldn’t find white my size. Instead, she bought a pale lavender pair with sprigs of the tiniest rose buds ringing the top. Those Sunday socks delighted me.

Unwittingly, they taught me something about the sacred.

Ask the average Amish, Mennonite, or German Baptist school child what “sacred” means, and they’ll probably shrug. They hear the minister talk about the Holy of Holies. They know to be quiet and reverent when they enter the church sanctuary. They have probably not been in their parent’s bedroom in recent memory. They sure notice that their mother dresses differently than most women at the grocery store, but they probably have never been taught the word “sacred.”

I remember singing “O Sacred Head Now Wounded” around Easter and Communion, but even this is a Lutheran hymn.

Mementos of my culture: plant started from a shoot of my mother’s, this summer’s wheat, a Midwest Mennonite covering and pink cape dress, the copy of the Bible my church gave me as a preteen, a book by Anabaptist author John Coblentz and Anabaptist publisher Christian Light Publications, a book about Menno Simons (the man Mennonites are named after), and an old hymn arranged anew by an Anabaptist composer (notice the shape notes)

Probably, I’m starting in the wrong place with this value—“Keep Sacred Things Sacred.” I should probably have started this series by expounding on how we Anabaptists take the commands of Jesus and the apostles literally and apply the commands of the Old Testament as they are fulfilled in Christ. 

We are Bible-believing, Bible-living people, after all. 

Still, values are more often caught than taught, and while I believe the values I’m addressing are biblical, they weren’t necessarily taught in Sunday school, as much as they were caught by the shape of our lives. 

Four sacred things Anabaptists keep sacred are as follows: human life, our bodies, marriage, and The Church.

Human Life

In the year after my mom died of cancer, Dad found ways to serve others in his own grief. Much to our chagrin, he dragged his daughters along. Hence, we sat on the musty parlour couch with the mustard and burnt orange afghan and waited for him to finish talking with a dear old octogenarian. We tried not to squirm and memorized the pattern in the wall paper. While bored, I never doubted the value of these old people. When the word “euthanaisa” entered my world in grade five, I knew it was wrong.

Around the same time, I also learned the word “abortion.”

Abortion.

Injustice burns in my soul when I hear pro-choice arguments. “Who’s choice?” I want to scream. “Since when do your desires matter more than the life within you?” 

Babies have always had their own room in our church. (They do share it with the mothers.) They are cuddled, passed round, and cooed over the minute they are carried in the door. If families have fewer than four children, it’s usually not by choice. We receive each child as a blessing from the Lord.

Little girls change, feed, and sing to their dolls. Many girls are given a last doll on the verge of their teen years as they transition to becoming the mothers of the next generation. My Jessie doll has thick brown hair and wears the purple dress Grandma sewed for her. 

Human life–in every stage and age–is sacred.

Our Bodies

God hand-crafted Adam from the clay of the earth. From the beginning, God built our bodies to house our eternal souls. After God sent His Holy Spirit among man, He gave our bodies the privilege to host the Holy Spirit (I Corinthians 6:19).

As a little girl, I remember being told to put my skirt down when it had floated too far up my legs. We sisters didn’t really want anyone to start chanting, “I see London, I see France,” although it made us giggle every time. While I know this is not the case in many homes (even Anabaptist sadly), my parents taught me that my body was private, that I should keep it covered away from the eyes of others. Dad, too, was careful to knock and wait for permission if he needed to speak to us in our rooms. 

It’s easy, from these little rituals, to get the idea that the body is something shameful. Society has bought the lie that what is of value should be accessible to everyone. If it’s hiding, it must be shameful. 

Other whispers speak the truth. There is only one Sistine Chapel painted by only one Michelangelo. A Bible verse shared with us by a close friend means more than one posted on social media with 8.6K likes. In a factory-driven world, we value authenticity and rarity. 

Each body is uniquely beautiful–a pearl. That beauty is too sacred to splash before the uncaring masses, too holy to cast before swine. (Matthew 7:6)

Every day I pull on a long, modest dress, every time I sit at my sewing machine to sew another one, every morning I place my covering over my hair, I confirm my body, in its unique femininity, is too valuable to throw away. My hair is my glory that I may one day share with the man who commits his life to me. Until then, it remains a sacred secret. (I Corinthians 11:15)

Thousands of visitors come to stare at Niagara Falls every year. I’ve gone, too. The crowds, hot asphalt, and concession stands get to me: it’s hard to find the space for awe in my soul. 

A lazy river flows near to where I live. A rugged trail runs along it, arched with gnarled thorn trees and surrounded by grasses. This secret, sacred beauty stills my soul. I like to think that maybe I’m the only person who ever got to see the spider’s web, spun across my path.

Marriage

I rarely entered my parent’s room as a child: it wasn’t my space. From peeking through a crack in the door, I could see my parent’s wedding picture on the wall and a photo of my mom when she graduated from nursing school. The double bed and dresser seemed ordinary.

We celebrated 40th, then 50th wedding anniversaries with my grandparents. That marriages could be anything other than one man and one woman “til death do us part” was foreign. I remember hearing that the seventeen-year-old neighbour girl was pregnant because “she’d slept with a boy” and was dutifully horrified and confused when my four-year-old cousins (a boy and a girl) slept in the same tent at family camping. My Dad kissed mommy on the mouth every evening when he came home from work, but he only kissed his daughters on the cheek.

The sacredness of marriage closely twines with the sacredness of the body. When we recognize our own value, it follows that we only share the entirety of ourselves with the human we most love and value—one we are committed to for life.

I love Mennonite weddings. There’s beautiful music sung by friends of the couple; a meaningful message from the minister; the quiet confidence in the repeated, age-old vows; the joy on the bride and groom’s faces as they hear “Mr. and Mrs.”; the feasting with friends old and new; the funny speeches enlightening us about the pair; and the final prayer by the groom himself. Every wedding guest feels privileged to share the sacred day, celebrating the sacred union.

I love, too, watching old couples walking together holding hands. I loved and hurt as I watched Grandma prop Grandpa up on his death bed. I get a warm feeling inside when a young father takes the baby and diaper bag to help his young wife.

Somehow it seems a little like heaven, and it should. Marriage symbolizes the intimacy between Christ and His bride.

The Church

See friends, we’ve come full circle. Those Sunday socks were saved for Sundays, because going to church was special.

In our household, we bathed and washed our hair Wednesday afternoons and Saturday evenings, because we had prayer meeting Wednesday nights and church on Sundays. We put on clean, crisp dresses, and Mom shined back our hair with water and hair spray. We never ran or yelled inside the church building (though we might have outside after). We prepared our bodies to remind our hearts that it was time to worship.

I easily assume the building is sacred. (Even in preparing for this, I had to be corrected by one of my anonymous sources.)

The building is only made sacred by the presence of believers—the people who have chosen to surrender to Christ, accept His forgiveness, and live his way. We gather, because we need each other. We pick one building, because it’s practical. Our Anabaptist forefathers used forest-hugged meadows and cellars, practical places to hide from persecution. We worship anywhere.

The fact that all those who call upon the name of Jesus can become one church, one family, one body, one bride—this is a holy, sacred thing.

That’s one reunion definitely worth saving the lavender socks for, especially if said socks of the tiniest of rosebuds ringing the top.

Keep sacred things sacred. It’s one value my culture gave to me, and I’d love to pass it on to you.


Fellow Anabaptists, what have I missed? What else do we hold sacred? What has been your experience with the sanctity of human life, our bodies, marriage, or The Church? Curious observers, what do you find confusing or compelling about these values? What needs to be clarified? What will you take with you?


Expect the next article “Serve the Community and Let It Serve You” September 14ish.

19 Comments on “Keep Sacred Things Sacred

  1. This is beautiful, Yolanda! In a time when so little is held sacred by our culture, it is imperative that Believers hold fast to that which is holy. Though expressed in different ways, I share each of these values. Thank you for giving us a glimpse into your heart through your heritage!

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  3. Having grown up around many Anabaptists, I have a huge amount of respect for your way of life. I definitely have some Anabaptist “leanings” myself, but would just call them biblical (for example, wearing a head covering). Some of my family’s dearest friends are Amish and Mennonite.

    I don’t want this to come across disrespectful in anyway, nor argumentative, but more thought-provoking, perhaps. My husband and I have served in many different churches over our almost 20 years of marriage, so we’ve seen the good and bad of several denominations. And since 2014, we have served in Peru as missionaries, specifically in training new cross-cultural workers to go into the tribal communities of the Amazon where there is no Christian presence. I give this background because it has shaped what I now see as issues in the different cultural expressions of Christianity.

    I agree with your thoughts and do see the beauty of holding the body, marriage, family, and the church as sacred; I also see that often times, our cultural expressions of these truths can become stumbling blocks to others. For example, while the biblical mandate for men and women to dress modestly cannot be argued, what should that look like? Does it have to be the Mennonite cape-dress and specific head covering style? To a people group in the Amazon, this would be impossible. Yet, what has happened over the years in missions is the copying of “culture” and holding those things sacred instead of the principle behind them. For example, in many Peruvian churches, even ones way out in the jungles of the Amazon, a man does not feel he can go into a church building unless he has on a long-sleeved button-down shirt, a tie, dress pants, and shiny black shoes. Why? Was he actually taught this by the missionaries who came and preached the gospel? Most likely not…but that’s what the missionaries did, so that was seen as the proper/only way to live out the Christian faith. One thing I have found beautiful is that some of the Mennonite women I know (in Ohio) have chosen to not wear the traditional style head coverings but have gone to more scarf-like ones. When I asked them about this, they said they made the change so that they could still obey Scripture but do it in a more culturally appropriate, accessible-to-all way.

    Another thing is the concept of the church building being a sacred place (with or without people in it). Again, this concept has been shaped for me by living overseas. There are tribes living very deep in the jungles of Peru and Brazil who were reached with the gospel but who haven’t felt they can reach the neighboring tribe up river with the gospel because they know they can’t build a concrete church building the way the missionaries did. Now, I know this can just be a misplaced understanding by the new believers, but still, I think our idea that a building is sacred leans too heavily on the Jewish temple concept and even the cathedrals of European Christians. Early Christians met in homes and yet, that was sacred. It’s not about a place but when the Body is gathered. How freeing for new believers in all places, even the jungles of Peru, to know that their hut, or even under the mango tree, is sacred because God is being worshiped in that place. Plus, it helps counter the animistic beliefs they hold, that certain places, trees, etc. are actually sacred because they house different spirits.

    Again, please hear my heart and know that I’m not stating any of this with the desire to argue or pick apart your words, because I agree with so much of what you said and trust your heart in writing them. The Mennonite culture is a beautiful one, for sure. I’m so grateful for the example it was for me growing up around it. I love that my husband and children have also seen the way Mennonites have loved and cared for our family when we’ve been back in the States on our furloughs. I just want to caution all of us to be careful that our own cultural expressions of Christianity do not become a stumbling block to others, that those expressions instead would elevate Christ Himself, therefore fulfilling His purposes of us being a witness in the world who lift Him up, not our cultures.

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    • Wow! That was a loaded comment. First, know that I feel honoured that you were willing to stick your head out and say it. Second, know that I agree with what you said.

      One of the dangers of growing up in a culture is that you can easily assume that how you do things is “right” and not realize that it’s actually cultural. In my preface to this series, I wrote this, “It’s hard to identify where culture ends and Christianity begins.” One of my purposes in doing a series is to actually uncover what is cultural and ask ourselves whether or not it’s a practice worth keeping in the light of the Gospel.

      Your life experience sounds like an amazing story, and I’d love to hear more of it. 🙂

      I find what you say about our revering the church building coming from the Jewish temple enlightening. I agree that it is not the building that is holy, but I do believe that we can set things apart for the Master’s use. I had the privilege of walking with a long-term mission team as they prayed there way through each room of a new mission house. There’s something sacred about that. Still Jesus said that we can worship Him “in Spirit and in truth” anywhere.

      What you say about culture and mission work has–unfortunately–caused a lot of confusion between mission boards and mission workers over the years. I think that workers often realize after being in a country long-term that respect for the culture will go much further than steam roller evangelism, but it’s hard for us “back home” to see that. Your thoughts make me want to tackle the whole Western and Anabaptist culture and cross-cultural evangelism topic. (But who am I?)

      I applaud a culturally applicable covering. I wear the style I do because God has called me to commit to a church community that uses this style, at least for this season. Somewhere, I have to find the balance between commitment and conviction: I don’t always get it right. However, I should note that I would be allowed to wear a different style on the mission field.

      Thank you again for sharing your true words with grace. Say more when you feel led.
      Yolanda

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  4. I enjoyed reading this post immensely. You put words to so many things I’ve only ever felt and lived. I’m looking forward to reading more of this series! Thank you for tackling this subject.

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  5. You put all that down in a beautiful way…and yet, so simple to understand. It was good for me to reflect on these values; to thank God for the teaching I’ve received. Thank you for sharing. I’m looking forward to the rest of this! 🙂

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  6. So much grace and truth here, Yolanda. Thank you.
    It/s so beautiful how you tie all the sacred things together–reminds me that the reason one is sacred is because they are all connected to and stemming from our Holy God.
    Another thing I’m thankful to have learned from childhood as sacred is the name of God. It’s a sensitivity that I think would be much harder to keep if I had been exposed to a lot of profanity when young. (Incidentally, I wonder if part of the reason we as conservative Anabaptists sometimes have a harder time talking openly and in everyday life about spiritual things is this carefulness about the name of God. It’s a precious value, but I do believe God wants to be a part of our everyday life and conversation too–in a respectful way, of course.)

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    • I agree, Rebecca, that it’s beautiful how it all ties together. That happened, as a gift from the Spirit, as I wrote it. We shouldn’t be surprised really, since as you reminded me, all is of God. What you say about the Name of God is so true! I have been listening to Christian, non-Mennonite voices recently, and I cringe every time I hear God’s Name misused–often in a nickname form–by sincere believers. My Dad would always challenge us to be careful with even God’s attributes. (I have no goodness outside of God, so why do I say “oh, my goodness”?) Your connection between the Name of God and everyday life is fascinating. Write more about it. 🙂

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  7. Yolanda, these are the things that my many of my generation have internalized, but have too seldom found the words for. It brings tears to see someone of your generation speak it well. A thing I wish we would hold a little more sacred is The Bible. I’d like to see us honour it and never stack other books on top, perhaps do ‘congregation rise’ whenever it’s words are read.

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    • Wow! Good point. You are convicting me on this. Muslim people take very good care of their Korans, wrapping them in a cloth and placing them on a high shelf when they aren’t using it.

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  8. Having made the transition from non-Mennonite to Mennonite, some of these values are new but inspiring to me. It was good to read your thoughts.
    I’m so glad of what you said about modest dress and WHY we dress that way–so many youth in our circles are throwing modesty away because they don’t understand the beauty of it! Thanks for posting Yolanda!

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