Here & there: The secular and the sacred

A wall at the actual Platform 9 at King's Cross Station in London, England on an unspecified date, made to look like the fictional Platform 9 3/4 in the Harry Potter series. | Photo by Sarah Ehlers, Unsplash, St. George News

FEATURE — Spoiler alert: I’m a big Harry Potter fan. That actually might not be such a big spoiler to anyone who’s ever had the occasion to meet my family’s dog; his name is Albus. As in Dumbledore, wizard extraordinaire and headmaster of Hogwarts.

Photo illustration. | Photo by Maurygraf, Pixabay, St. George News

I first read the series with my oldest when he was 10. Mind you, I didn’t read it to him, but rather concurrently with him – me always 50 pages behind– because he wanted to read it himself. And he wanted to know all the plot secrets first.  

Then, two years ago, I re-read the series in its entirety – all 4,224 pages – aloud to my two other boys over the course of seven months.  

We’d read Harry Potter at bedtime. We’d read Harry Potter at the breakfast table before school. We’d read Harry Potter at the park under a large, shady tree. Heck, we’d even read Harry Potter at the dentist while the boys’ had their teeth cleaned.  

We laughed, we cried (OK, I cried), we lamented, we frustrated and we celebrated our way through the story arc one page at a time.  

It was special, those hours reading Harry Potter together. And when it was over, I missed it terribly.

Fast forward to today. No, I’m not reading Harry Potter again (yet). But I am listening to a related podcast: Harry Potter and the Sacred Text.  

Harry Potter and the Sacred Text, you ask? Yes, sacred text.    

The podcast is hosted by two Harvard Divinity School educated chaplains.

Photo illustration. | Photo by Artem Maltsev, Unsplash, St. George News

Each week the pair analyzes a chapter in the Harry Potter series through a different lens. Think lenses like gratitude, vulnerability, devotion, persistence, and perfection. Then, they apply a common technique used in the study of sacred texts to deepen their understanding of the Harry Potter text.  

For example, in the first six chapters of Book 1, they use the traditional Christian practice of Lectio Divina to delve deeper.

Lectio Divina literally means “sacred text.” It usually entails turning randomly to a verse in scripture and then invoking four levels of reading meant to deepen your understanding of and relationship to the text. 

First, there’s the narrative – what is literally happening in the verse? Then, is the allegory – what is the deeper meaning here? Next is reflection – how does this relate to my own life? And finally, invitation – what does this reflection then invite you to do or change in your life?

And they do this, and other religious techniques, with excerpts from each chapter of Harry Potter. It’s really quite brilliant.  

Not just because I love Harry Potter, which I do. But more so because it is extraordinary to see sacred practices applied outside of the normal “sacred” box. And how that application of a sacred practice can make more things in our lives, well, sacred. Even Harry Potter.  

Photo illustration. | Photo by Rae Tian, Unsplash, St. George News

And who doesn’t want more sacredness in their lives? More sacredness within our families. More sacredness within our friendships. More sacredness in our pastimes. In the neighborhood. In our garden. Even waiting in line – masked and six feet apart – in the grocery store.

Each Harry Potter and the Sacred Text episode ends with a blessing of sorts given by the hosts. Not exactly to the listener, but to one of the characters in the just analyzed chapter. Someone who exhibits admirable qualities or even someone who might be seriously flawed.   

But with a newfound understanding of the character, acquired with sacred attention, the chaplains express their “most vulnerable desire or hope” for him/her. And by extension, anyone who identifies with parts of the character. 

So, I’ll conclude with my own blessing of this sort. For you and for me.   

May we all make sacred everything we can. Especially now, when the world still feels upside down. 

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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