Overcoming separatism

August 7th, 2019

If I were pressed to name only one thing today that threatens the spiritual life more than any other, I would choose the absence of oneness in the world. Separatism is our greatest peril. We are a divided people, separated from others, the creation, and our own selves. We are splintered into innumerable dualities and factions, rooted in fear and expressed in self-preservation programs of all kinds. The loss of the common good threatens life now and puts the future in jeopardy.

Sister Joan Brown describes our dilemma, “If we are unable to see that we are in communion with another, we will not realize that what we do to ourselves, we do to the other and to the earth. Likewise, we do not realize that, ultimately, our lack of understanding turns back toward us in violence, whether that is fear of other races and diversity, or destruction of Earth because we see the natural world as an object rather than a subject with interiority.“[1]

Similarly, John Muir, who observed nature up close and personal wrote, “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.” [2] Human life is no exception. Separatism is the great illusion, oneness is the grand reality. Wonder is Oneder.

When we serve the causes of separatism (and there are many ways to do it), we are living in reverse of what God intends and what Jesus prayed for, that “they will be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you” (John 17:21). Every major religion shares the aim of awakening us to the Reality that all of life is of God, and exists in God and for God.

Hinduism speaks of God present in the forest and in the cave of the heart. Buddhism sees everyone and everything in the context of enlightenment. Taoism embraces all of life within the Way. Judaism teaches that no matter where we go, God is there (Psalm 139). Islam says that “Whithersoever you turn, there is the face of God” (The Qur’an, Al-Baqara, 2:115).

In the Christian tradition, this Reality is summed up in one sentence, “Christ is all and in all” (Colossians 3:11, NRSV). E. Stanley Jones said of this verse, “Nothing in all literature can compare with this.” [3] Christ, the eternal second Person of the Holy Trinity, is universally and pervasively present in everyone and everything (see John 1:3). [4]

Oneness is the source (Deuteronomy 6:4) and substance (Galatians 3:28) of life. Oneing is the ministry (i.e. reconciliation) God has called us to engage in (2 Corinthians 5:18), so that there can be an emerging alignment between the way life is meant to be here and now and how it will ultimately be when God’s eternal plan is fulfilled, “to bring all things together in Christ, the things in heaven along with the things on earth” (Ephesians 1:10). John Wesley recognized this comprehensive oneness, commenting that God’s purpose is to “recapitulate, reunite, and place in order again under Christ, their common head…all angels and people, whether living or dead, in the Lord. ” [5]

The implications of this are manifold, but one that’s particularly important for us today is the recognition that life as God intends it is deformed when partisanship, division, discrimination, and nationalism make separatism (and the superiorities it creates) the prevailing view and operative energy of life. E. Stanley Jones put it simply, “You can’t grow on a No” and that to turn life into negative dualisms is to contribute to the process of decay. [6]

More recently, Richard Rohr has voiced the same sentiment, “the divisions, dichotomies, and dualisms of the world can only be overcome by a unitive consciousness at every level: personal, relational, social, political, cultural, in inter-religious dialogue, and spirituality in particular. This is the unique and central job of healthy religion (re-ligio = to re-ligament!).” [7] Thomas Keating echoes the same sentiment, “Jesus’ teaching about the unity of the human family as the most urgent expression of the will of God must upstage every other value and consideration.” [8]

We have our marching orders for the time in which we live: to remove walls that divide, and reveal to a fractured and fragmented world that our existence is a total life immersion in God, in whom we live, move, and have our being (Acts 17:28). We are one reality (creation), one family (humanity), sharing a one responsibility (the preservation and enrichment of all forms of life). Whatever life we have on this planet will be life together.

[1] “The Nonviolent Life,” daily eletter, 7/10/2019.

[2] Quoted in ‘Brain Pickings,’ 7/14/2019

[3] E. Stanley Jones, ‘In Christ’ (Abingdon Press, 1961), 296 Week 40, Saturday

[4] For more about this, see Richard Rohr, ‘The Universal Christ’ (Convergent Books, 2019).

[5] John Wesley, ‘Explanatory Notes Upon the New Testament (1755), many editions since. Commentary note on Ephesians 1:10.

[6] E. Stanley Jones, ‘Growing Spiritually’ (Pierce & Washabaugh, 1953), 106, 110. [Pagination from the Abingdon Festival Book edition, 1978)

[7] Richard Rohr, “Introduction,” Oneing journal, Volume 1, Number 1 (CAC Publications ,2013), loc 188.

[8] “Word of the Week,” Contemplative Outreach, 7/14/2019.

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