Reclaiming Our Sense of Interconnectedness
The Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh has said, “We are here to awaken from the illusion of our separateness.” He even invented a new word to describe our interconnectedness with the rest of humanity and, indeed, our interconnectedness with all of creation. He called this reality interbeing. This means what happens to a man in Hanoi can have consequences for a child in Peoria. It means the smoke from the wildfires in the western U.S. can affect the air quality far beyond its geographic borders. It means the death of millions of honey bees can have serious repercussions for all of humanity.
Interbeing. It is a thought I have been pondering a lot lately—especially as I experience our human community’s struggle with Covid. If there is one lesson this pandemic should be teaching us it is precisely this: our interbeing, that is, our oneness, our interconnectedness. Yet, I fear we are not learning this lesson—and it is having dire consequences. One major factor preventing us from acknowledging our interconnectedness—especially in the U.S.—is our exaggerated emphasis on individualism and personal freedom to the detriment of our sense of social responsibility. Yes, we have personal freedoms, and they are precious and vital. But they are not absolute. We must always balance our personal freedoms with concern for the common good.
These concepts of our oneness and the common good have been articulated over the centuries by diverse individuals and groups of people. The Lakota people expressed this belief in these words: Mitakuye Oyasin. “We are all related.” Fifty-eight years ago, in his commencement address at American University, President John Kennedy, uttered these memorable words: “Our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.”
Martin Luther King, Jr. was keenly aware of our interconnectedness. He spoke of “the inter-related structure of reality,” saying, “Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” Some individuals are fortunate enough to experience this oneness of humanity in a dramatic way. In June 1985, NASA launched the Discovery Space Shuttle with a crew that included two non-Americans. One of them, the payload specialist, was Sultan Salman Abdulaziz from Saudi Arabia. After orbiting the earth for several days, he penned these significant words: “The first day we pointed to our countries. The third or fourth day we were pointing to our continents. By the fifth day we were aware of only one earth.”
More recently, other voices have articulated our oneness with others. Barbara Brown Taylor said it succinctly: “Wearing skin… brings me into communion with others.” And Joan Chittister, OSB, wrote: “To claim full human development, total spiritual maturity, outside the realm of the human community is to claim the impossible.”
Perhaps no one has said more about our interconnectedness and the common good than Pope Francis. His book, Let Us Dream: The Path to a Better Future, is a response to the various crises the world is currently facing—particularly the pandemic. He admits, “Sometimes when I think about the challenges before us, I feel overwhelmed. But I’m never hopeless.” Why? Because he believes “we are accompanied.” He reassures us that the Holy Spirit is with us offering us “an opportunity in this crisis to come out better.” But he warns that we can block the action of the Spirit in several ways: 1) by clinging to the myth of self-sufficiency, 2) by being obsessed with ourselves as individuals, 3) by suffering from “existential myopia” which focuses only on our family, our “clan,” or our country while forgetting the wider world, and 4) by getting so discouraged we are unable to act.
With all these thoughts in mind, let us pray together that we as individuals, as families, as small communities, as nations, and as one earth community may reclaim, embrace, and make decisions that flow from the sense of our oneness and interconnectedness with each other.
Let us pray: Creator God, give us a renewed sense of our oneness with all of humanity and all of creation… Awaken us from the illusion of our separateness… Help us to see that our oneness is ultimately rooted in You… and that everyone is our sister and our brother… May the crises we are currently facing dispel the myth of our self-sufficiency. May they urge us to broaden our perspective on life to include the wider world… Give us wisdom to build unity through humble prayerful discernment… Give us the courage to take decisive action, action that flows not from selfishness or fear but from faith and love… Give us a renewed appreciation of Jesus’ life and teachings—especially his example of selfless service of others… Give us a renewed sense of the presence of the Holy Spirit in our midst, a presence that engenders in us unfailing hope. Amen.
PS: Speaking of connectedness… I had two recent experiences of my connectedness with other people. On August 21st, my family celebrated the life of my Uncle Hank who passed away during covid. We met at St. Albert the Great Parish Hall and enjoyed seeing so many cousins again. The room had displays of old photographs and a big cake that said, “Happy Heavenly Birthday, Hank!” (The 21st would have been his 97th birthday). At all our family gatherings, Uncle Hank always played his accordion. We listened to an actual recording of his playing. It brought back so many memories and made us feel his presence in a special way. I also learned that several of my relatives actually read this blog. A big thank you to them! As I gazed around the room at all my “kin,” I thought: How lucky I am!
On August 17th, I connected with seventeen women from the class of ’72 from Notre Dame Academy (now NDCL) in Chardon, OH. I taught them when they were freshmen and seniors. Below is a picture of all of us: the seventeen of them plus two of their teachers: Sister Jacquelyn (Evarista) (back row, third from right) and me (back row, third from left). Our mini-reunion was a wonderful time of sharing memories and stories!
I have chosen an “old” song by Marty Haugen: “We Are Many Parts.” The first video is the original song, but without the lyrics. The second version with lyrics is sung by a parish. May we pray in earnest all the words of this song—especially these: “May the Spirit of love make us one indeed.”
The original version:
The version with lyrics:
I hope you might consider commenting below to anything in today’s blog: the words… pictures… prayer… or song. Or simply add another thought…
Sr Melannie and everyone, hello!
Barbara Brown Taylor’s words leap out at me this morning. (Her words have a way of doing that!)
It might be slightly off topic but I was listening to the Holy Father’s Angelus and homily yesterday, without translation, to see how much of it I can get. Pope Francis is another person whose phrases have a way of leaping out at you! When he said, that Jesus chooses to come to us and to redeem us “nella debolezza della carne umana” — in the weakness of human flesh, it affected me deeply.
Yes, community (a word at which I used to scoff in my Greta Garbo-ish 20s and 30s) is indeed my salvation. I can only be fully human in relation to other human beings.
And Sister, the prayer with which you coda the post is a lovely and powerful prayer.
Hope everyone’s doing OK this Monday morning, and that those in the Northeast weren’t adversely affected by Henri.
Peace and light, all.
Great to hear from you, Tom. Around here in Whitman, MA, Henri really didn’t touch us. Hope all was okay in Cambridge. Great response. Your words are, for the most part, my thoughts. God bless!
Current political culture would have us divided, thus we keep hearing extreme right and/or right. It is a ploy to divide and conquer. We must remember our interconnectedness and that we are “accompanied” or we will destroy all that we have been given. This current blog is helpful and thoughtful. Thank you.
Good morning, Sr. Melannie….
Good morning, all…
In today’s blog, you discuss a painful topic — our current disunity regarding how to get through this Covid crisis — with a tone of hope. Thank you! Really need to read Barbara Brown Taylor. She sounds wonderful. Take care, and have a wonderful week!
PS: Great reunion pic!
Connection is vital to our well-being on every level–micro and macro. Knowing we are accompanied by the Holy Spirit gives us strength, hope and courage. Knowing we are one with our neighbors, our communities and our God empowers us. Creation herself groans for us to connect and care for her and for one another. So great, Sister Melannie, how you stay connected with family and friends and invite us to also find our way to interconnection, inter-being.
Your reunion reminded me of our eighth grade 71st reunion that 4 out of 19 celebrated this month. We graduated from St. Ladislas School, taught by the Vincention Sisters of Charity, have been blessed to have one become a priest, Fr. John Olsavsky! Started in 2002 to have annual get togethers. Loved the music selection!! Have a blessed day.
This message is so what we need right now. I hope it’s OK,I want to share this with my RCIA group.
Barbara, You may always share my blog with whomever you wish! Thank you! Sr. Melannie
Dear Sister Melanie,
Your blog today was just so meaningful. I especially liked the word “interbeing” and the mention of the bees. God placed all of the creatures and plants on earth because He saw that they were needed. We do need each other, not only the people close to us but also those far away who in ways were rarely think about impact our lives through the products the produce and the food they grow.
Our Bible Study group will be using your book HANGING ONTO HOPE in September and October. We should get some lively discussions. Thank you for your marvelous insights.
Thanks for the beautiful prayer. I always believed that only a pandemic would have the power to jumpstart the “Kingdom.” Obviously it didn’t. Only prayer, as an expression of true reliance on God, will create “a new heaven and a new earth.”
Thank you for what you said about interbeing and our connectedness in terms of the pandemic. We really have a responsibility to do our part; lives are at stake. As you said, “we are not learning this lesson—and it is having dire consequences.” Thank you for your timely message.
In a Hallmark movie years ago, a character said something along the lines of we are all like stitches in a sweater. Each of us dependant on the others to hold us up. I don’t remember the name of the movie or much else about it but I’ve never forgotten that! I have this image in my mind of being a stitch in God’s cosmic sweater.
The quote from Sultan Salman Abdulaziz was so fitting as we prepare to enter the Season of Creation and the theme: “A Home for All?
Renewing the Oikos of God”
If we truly were aware of interconnectedness/interbeing how different this world would be.
The most painful interbeing that I believe a # of people are experiencing is with the Afghan peoples, the soldiers, dead and alive, and the president who had to make this decision. I thru certain life experiences can empatize with the Afghans and their fear, but also having the lack of hope os any way out.
The Holy Spirit ,I pray, is providing fortitude, courage and wisdom for all.
Thank you for this message. I found reference to your blog in Give Us This Day, it was exactly what I needed to hear, be reminded of and to pick up the trail and follow. The toll of the pandemic, living in a remote area that can feel dauntingly lonely in the best of times, and remembrances of 9/11 today provide fertile ground for your seeds of direction and wisdom.