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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.