“To see a world in a grain of sand, and a heaven in a wildflower/ hold infinity in the palm of your hand and eternity in an hour.” During my junior year at Chaminade High School, Bro. Stephen Balleta, S.M. drilled these hallowed words of William Blake deep into the recesses of my brain. I’ve kept that stanza from The Auguries of Innocence neatly tucked away, perhaps in the same aisle of my mind as the such and such causes for World War I, the date of the Battle of Hastings and when to use affect as opposed to effect. Trivial though it may have seemed at the time, some six years later these words have finally manifested their power. William Blake, in that short, un-rhyming and jumbled stanza has captured what it means to see the world sacramentally.
The infinite world captured in a grain of sand, the boundless beauty expressed in a wildflower, the gift of holding infinity in the palm of our hand and the paradox of fitting eternity into one hour all capture (to the extent that human speech and thought are able to communicate and conceptualize) – the essence of sacramental nature. A sacramental worldview is less like viewing the world through rose colored glasses and more like journeying through space and time in Dr. Who’s TARDIS; the inside is exponentially larger than its external appearance implies.
Somewhere alongside my knowledge of the Battle of Hastings and World War I is also a (working) definition of sacrament: a tangible sign of the invisible grace of God (cf. CCC 1131). Each of our seven sacraments has a clear and tangible sign (e.g. the bread and wine brought for consecration and the water and oil used in baptism) that manifests that salvific grace which is otherwise beyond the grasp of our senses. A sacramental worldview, however, should extend beyond the liturgical function of our seven sacraments; rather, it should extend the sacraments themselves.
Living a sacramental worldview means, quite simply, viewing the world as sacrament. A redundant definition it might be, but often times the simplest explanations are the best. If we do truly believe that the Sacraments are moments in time where the invisible grace of God is made visible and tangible then seeing this same grace working constantly in and through our daily lives would only beg that we see the sacramental nature of daily life. This is not to say that every blade of grass is truly the transubstantiated body of Christ, but it does substantiate St. Ignatius’s charge to see God in all things. Furthermore, viewing the world through “sacramentally-tinted glasses” would mean seeing the very world itself as sacramental; it would mean recognizing our lives and everything that they contain as the gift that they are. Indeed, it would mean seeing this world, our fallen world, for what it truly is: a tangible sign of the invisible and salvific grace of God. That being said, the question is not so much what it means to live with a sacramental worldview, but rather how this worldview will change the way we act.
Every grain of sand is a window to the self-giving and creative essence of our God, every wildflower a taste of His beauty; we hold infinity in the palm of our hands before the reception of the Most Blessed Sacrament and eternity in an hour with each liturgy. Perhaps the Brothers at Chaminade knew what they were doing after all.
Patrick J Sullivan is working on his MA in theology at the University of Notre Dame through the Echo Faith Formation Leadership Program and is currently serving in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.