Susan Sarandon’s Bizarre “Sacrament” of Ashes

“For everyone who’s joined in the sacrament tonight, I’m really happy to hear, there’s a lot of you, and he’d be so happy to know this is going on here.”

SUSAN SARANDON By Incase (https://www.flickr.com/photos/goincase/4563559494/) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
SUSAN SARANDON
By Incase (https://www.flickr.com/photos/goincase/4563559494/) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
That’s actress Susan Sarandon, speaking about processing through the festival at the 2015 Burning Man, the clothing-optional festival in Black Rock Desert in northern Nevada, carrying the ashes of the LSD advocate Timothy Leary. Depending on which celebrity news magazine you read, you learn that Sarandon either

(a) drank Leary’s ashes in a kind of corpse cocktail after parading around the festival grounds; or

(b) placed the ashes in a newly built temple, the five-story “Totem of Confessions,” then stood back while the temple and its contents burned against the night sky.

This much we know:  The 68-year-old Sarandon wore a slinky, low-cut “bridal gown” with feathers around her neck and flowers on her head to commemorate the life of her friend Leary, who died in 1996. She told Jimmy Kimmel the story. “For anyone who doesn’t know who Timothy Leary is,” she said, “and you’ve taken acid, you should be ashamed of yourself.” She then called Leary a “prophet.”

TIMOTHY LEARY  By Philip H. Bailey (E-mail) (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons
TIMOTHY LEARY
By Philip H. Bailey (E-mail) (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons
The whole Burning Man thing is an annual reminder of just how crazy Hollywood can get. It’s the kind of story that makes me turn the page, except for one thing: that reference to a “sacrament.” Susan Sarandon thinks that her weird reminiscence about the drug enthusiast is a “sacrament.” . It’s a great opportunity to think about just what constitutes a “sacrament” in the Catholic Church–and what the sacraments really mean in our lives. . In the fifth century, St. Augustine said that a “sacrament” was “an outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible grace.” Augustine spoke of a “sacramentum”–a sign that sanctifies or makes holy. For instance, in Baptism, Christ and the Holy Spirit make effective, through grace, the cleansing that water signifies. In his letters, Augustine referred to a sacramentum as a “sacrum signum” (a sign of a sacred thing). . Augustine did not think of only seven “sacraments” but lumped them together with other ritual signs, listing over 300. The Catholic Church gradually reduced this, differentiating between rituals and other signs and symbols that assist people in prayer and devotion. The latter group, including things such as holy water, palms, and ashes, are called “sacramentals.” . In 1215, the Fourth Lateran Council defined seven major rituals as the sacraments of the Church: baptism, confirmation, eucharist, penance, anointing of the dying (today the anointing of the sick), marriage (matrimony), and Holy Orders, the ordination of priests and deacons. . This listing of seven sacraments was reconfirmed in the Councils of Lyon II (1247), Florence (1439) and Trent (1547). . The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines the sacraments as “efficacious signs of grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church, by which divine life is dispensed to us. The visible rites by which the sacraments are celebrated signify and make present the graces proper to each sacrament. They bear fruit in those who receive them with the required dispositions.” . Even Wikipedia defines a sacrament as “a Christian rite recognized as of particular importance and significance.” . But Susan Sarandon’s parade and bonfire of remembrance represents a redefinition of a “sacrament,” reducing it to a secular event with no relation to God or grace. Count me out.

Rogier van der Weyden (1399/1400–1464) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Rogier van der Weyden (1399/1400–1464) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
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  • Wally Noon

    I don’t think that Susan meant sacrament in any real religious sense, do you? I don’t think she’s religious or claims to be, other than in the generic, “spiritual but not religious” sense. Her social and political activism seem liberal politically, charitable socially and strictly secular in nature. I’m not surprised she was at Burning Man. Good for her.

    She apparently likes LSD and Timothy Leary. A lot of people do.

    • kathyschiffer

      You are very kind, Wally–but words have meaning. I’m not willing to give away the term “sacrament” to be used for whatever silly thing a Hollywood personality thinks up.

      • Korou

        Is it up to you?

        • kathyschiffer

          Korou, you would demand the right to define words to mean whatever you want them to mean. Problem is, that’s quite a Tower of Babel we’re building, what with boy = girl, marriage = whatever, and now sacrament = also whatever. And with each new self-determined definition, we become less able to communicate with one another.

          • Korou

            I think Wally Noon answered you already. If she didn’t mean the word in the Catholic sense, why shouldn’t she use it as she wishes? As you yourself said, “Augustine spoke of a “sacramentum”–a sign that sanctifies or makes holy.” Susan Sarandon is not claiming to rewrite the Catholic definition of the word – she’s just using it in its original meaning.

            “But Susan Sarandon’s parade and bonfire of remembrance represents a
            redefinition of a “sacrament,” reducing it to a secular event with no
            relation to God or grace.”
            Fine. Good for her.

            “Count me out.”
            Okay; was someone trying to make you join in with the ceremony?

  • http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/ Manny

    I think Sarandon has been taking too much acid and has left permanent damage.