"Without holiness — the potential for it — we could not survive. Human life is far too brutal. Without the practice of sacredness in our lives, we could never withstand the nightmarish parts, the sorrows, losses, injustice, betrayals, apathy, and horror. The physical body might persevere, but the spirit would die in its chrysalis with its eye closed against the divine. Deprived of an essential connection — the feeling that though we die, we matter — hope perishes and with it the aspiration to goodness. Honor slumps into complacency; evolution gives way to regret. We lose the magic and ourselves when the world is stripped of its sacred dimension. We can't perceive radiance when we're squinting. Aux yeux ouverts, with open eyes, the French call seeing the world in all its glory. Atheist or true believer, we can sacramentalize our lives by waking to wonder, the now-and-never-again-for-all-time-ness of things, and bring this tenderness to other people.

"We must keep our eye on the grandeur of things — not in a grandiose way, but as a reality check. Otherwise, we find ourselves shrinking. That's all too common a situation in our demystified world. And we wonder why depression rates are rising. Depression is more than a chemical condition. Mircea Eliade, the great historian of sacred traditions, captured our situation prophetically: 'The modern West is the first culture in human history that has managed to strip time and space of all sacredness and to produce a fully practical, efficient, and profane world,' with its material focus, mass consumption, individualist ethos, and reliance on science as the bottom line. We err too far on the side of left-brain order and lose a measure of right-brain enchantment. In a materialistic culture, as a friend used to say, we have no transcendental context for our suffering.

"Matthew Fox, a former Catholic priest who was silenced by the Vatican for calling the church a dysfunctional patriarchy — which it is — put it to me this way: 'We've been Novocained to death by . . . all our addictions, from entertainment to workaholism to drinking and drugging. It covers up our capacity for awe. For passion and deep feeling. It sets us up for superficial experience.' Then Fox quoted another religious man, the Jewish philosopher Abraham Joshua Heschel, who surmised that modern man is 'shocked by the weakness of our awe, but also by the weakness of our shock.' When we shut down the sacred, we shut down wisdom. Without a feeling for the sublime, disgust robs us of luster, and the hope of making a better world."