When our children were born, Joan bought a camera and started taking pictures. Pictures of everything—vacations, hikes, family gatherings, birthday parties, first haircuts, first days of school, holidays, thousands of pictures. Just when I thought I couldn’t take it anymore, the boys moved away and for a single blissful year I could do anything without being photographed. The paparazzi had moved on to someone else. But then Spencer got married and Madeline was born and out came the camera, except this time it was on a smart phone and far more convenient, and what had been thousands of pictures became tens of thousands, the nuclear bomb of photography, an explosion of cinematography.

But back in the old days, when the boys were little and Joan had her camera with the hood that draped over her head and the flash she held up with her right hand while pulling the shutter with her left hand I would say to her, “Why are you taking pictures of everything? Live in the moment. Enjoy the now. We don’t need a record of everything.” But she was not deterred, and kept taking pictures, then writing the dates on each one before arranging them into ten mammoth photo albums, telling me the day would come when I would appreciate her efforts, and I would snort and make some snarky comment, how we’d never look at those pictures, and that’s how it went for decades.

So the other evening, just before bedtime, I was looking through the photo albums, remembering when our boys were little, before they got minds of their own and realized I was stupid, and it turned out Joan was right. It was so wonderful looking at those pictures and remembering the golden moments of their childhood. It felt sacramental. In fact, that is how sacraments began. Long before the camera was invented, we invented rituals to remind us of our significant moments. We created celebrations and festivals and holidays to remind ourselves of important victories and achievements.

The church did this too. When we wanted to remember what it felt like to participate in the life of Jesus, we created the sacrament of communion, breaking bread and drinking wine. When we wanted to recapture Jesus’s baptism by John, we baptized one another. When we wanted to remember when Jesus healed people, we prayed for our own sick and began laying hands on them to speed their healing. We were reminding ourselves of those times God had seemed especially real to us.

Eventually the vocation of theologian developed, and the simple celebrations became codified and regulated, only certain people could administer them and participate in them. What had begun as a photo album anyone could thumb through, became a privilege only some could enjoy. That which was simply, became complicated and controlled. Sacraments were defined as “mystical channels of grace” or “outward signs of inward graces.”

Of theologians it has been said, “I had but one small candle to see my way through the utter darkness, then along came a theologian and blew it out.” So the theologians imposed more rules, delineating the proper number of celebrations or sacraments. The Catholic church said there were seven sacraments. Others said five, still others said, “No, there are only two–baptism and the Lord’s Supper.” They disagreed with another, so did the Christian thing and killed one another. In the midst of these tensions, Quakerism began. Contrary to common belief, we Friends did not say there were no sacraments. Indeed, just the opposite. We believed everything was sacramental. We believed anything could be an outward sign of an inward grace, that countless events had the potential to remind us of God’s presence and love. This is one of the things Quakers got just right. We certainly got some things wrong, but this is something we got just right—that there exists in the albums of our minds, thousands of photographs that help us remember and celebrate those moments when God seemed especially real and dear to us.

I have a confession. For much of my adult life, I’ve been a functional atheist, which I realize is a startling confession for your pastor to make, but there you have it. Not quite as shocking as an affair or stealing church funds, but almost. Here’s how it happened. Because my mind couldn’t conceive of God, I found it difficult to see God’s presence in anyone or anything, to see these mystical channels of grace, these outward signs of inward graces.

Then, two weeks ago, Joan and I were down at the farm. The weather was gorgeous. Warm, sunny days. So one morning after the dew burned off, I decided to mow the trails in our upper meadow. I was chugging up the hill, not realizing I was heading toward a miracle of my own. The wildflowers were in bloom, all kinds of wildflowers, thick with color, like God was Jackson Pollock and had loaded up a paintbrush full of flowers and flung it across this canvas of meadow. Amidst all those flowers it was raining butterflies, what appeared to be thousands of them—monarchs and swallowtails and painted ladies. All these channels of grace taking wing, and I caught myself saying, “Thank you, God, for this beauty.”

All these years I’ve gotten so used to blowing out candles, I’ve failed to notice the abundant miracles, the red-winged bird shining like a burning bush, singing like a Scripture verse.

It’s like that verse in Peter Mayer’s song Holy Now.

Wine from water is not so small
But an even better magic trick
Is that anything is here at all
So the challenging thing becomes
Not to look for miracles
But finding where there isn’t one.

That’s one thing early Quakers got right. Everything is holy. Not just wine, not just bread, not just water, not just births, but also deaths. Not just last words, but also first words. Everything is holy now. Don’t ever confine God to just this moment or that moment, this event or that event. Everything is holy. Every day is the Lord’s Day. Every person has the Light. The miracles, the wonders, fly thick as butterflies. Everything is holy.