Saturday, 2 August 2014

Can we live as one?

Last year I bought a copy of  “Falling Into the Sky: A Meditation Anthology” edited by Abhi Janamanchi and Abhimanyu Janamanchi. There are some beautiful reflections in it, The following “God Has No Borders” by Rod Richards seems particularly pertinent in the current climate.

"We humans are the line-drawers. We are the border-makers. We are the boundary-testers. We are the census-takers. We draw a line to separate this from that, so we can see clearly what each is. We create a border to define our place, so we can take care of what's there. We test boundaries to find if they are real, if they are necessary, if they are just. We congregate within those boundaries in families and tribes and cities and countries that we call us. And we call people on the other side them.

But our minds seek boundaries that our hearts know not. The lines we draw disappear when viewed with eyes of compassion. The recognition of human kinship does not end at any border. A wise part of us knows that the other is us, and we them.

Let justice flow like water and peace like a never-ending stream. Let compassion glow like sunlight and love like an ever-shining beam. The rain, the sunshine, the breeze, the life-giving air we breathe -- they know no boundaries. Neither do our empathy, our good will, our concern for one another.

God has no borders. Love has no borders. Let us lift up the awareness of our unity as we celebrate our awesome diversity on this beautiful day."

John Lennon once sang “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I hope someday you’ll join us and the world will live as one”.

Well looking around at our world at times this does indeed seem a dream. Pick up any newspaper or switch on the news and we see division and violence growing. The idea that we can live as one does seem like a dream at times.

This last week marked the hundredth anniversary of the commencement of the First World War. Over the coming months there will be many events remembering this. While we remember I do wonder if we have ever really learned. Over the last 100 years there have been very few days when there was no conflict taking place in this our world.

Now while death through armed conflict is responsible for the loss of so many lives it is thought that only about 10% of the one million violent deaths in the world each year are due to them. The conflicts and the violence that takes place in this our world is not just between nations, or even groups and individuals. Half of the 1 million deaths are thought to be through suicide and about one third through homicide. How can we live at one with each other if we cannot live at one with ourselves?

Now of course the divisions in human life take many and varied forms. We see them of course in religious context and between nations and ethnic groups. We seem them in political agendas and we see them within communities and even within ourselves. It seems that when human beings come together in any way shape or form division soon begins to grow. It happens in families too and within our individual selves. How many of us can honestly say, hand on heart, that they are at one with themselves and the world around them?

It seems very difficult to imagine a world where we can all live as one.

A few days ago I came across a fascinating article written about  Buzz Aldrin, the second man to land on the moon. The article recounted something that took place during that first moon landing, something that was intentionally kept quiet at the time.

As Neil Armstrong was preparing to take “one small step for man” Aldrin wanted to mark the moment in a way that was deeply spiritually meaningful to him, something that he believed would symbolise the wonder and awe of the moon landings and that transcended the nuts and bolts and mere technology. He felt that a simple communion would be appropriate. So Aldrin brought with him a piece of communion bread, a sip of wine and a tiny silver chalice amongst the few personal items he was allowed to take into space with him.

So just before stepping foot on the moon, Aldrin conducted the service. As he did he called out to Houston

“Houston, this is Eagle. This is the LM Pilot speaking. I would like to request a few moments of silence. I would like to invite each person listening in, wherever and whomever he may be, to contemplate for a moment the events of the past few hours and to invite each person listening, wherever and whomever he may be, to contemplate for a moment the events of the past few hours and to give thanks in his own individual way.”

Aldrin had wanted to broadcast the event globally but had been discouraged by NASA who were at the time fighting a lawsuit brought by the atheist activist Madalyn Murray O’Hair who was suing them over the reading of Genesis by the crew of Apollo 8. So the communion was kept quiet and personal due to fear of litigation.

Years later while reflecting on the incident Aldrin said himself that perhaps he should have chosen a more universal way of commemorating this incredible human achievement. He said;

“Perhaps if I had it to do over again, I would not choose to celebrate communion… Although it was a deeply meaningful experience for me, it was a Christian sacrament, and we had come to the moon in the name of all mankind—be they Christians, Jews, Muslims, animists, agnostics, or atheists. But at the time I could think of no better way to acknowledge the enormity of the Apollo 11 experience than by giving thanks to God.”

So many of those early astronauts, as they looked down on earth, were deeply moved by the experience. They certainly saw the oneness and the interconnection of all life on earth and all of humanity.

Thomas Stafford, while looking down on earth from Apollo 10 famously said:

"The white twisted clouds and the endless shades of blue in the ocean

make the hum of the spacecraft systems, the radio chatter, even your

own breathing disappear. There is no cold or wind or smell to tell you

that you are connected to Earth.

You have an almost dispassionate platform - remote, Olympian and yet so moving that you can hardly believe how emotionally attached you are to those rough patterns shifting steadily below."

From space those astronauts developed a deepening spiritual connection to the earth they had been separated from. They saw the world as one, there were no borders from space.

We are all connected on this our planet and yet we build so many walls, so many borders that separate us. How do we begin to live with a greater sense of oneness and interconnection? Well I do not think that the only answer is to blast off into space. I don’t think we need to do this. If I’ve learnt anything I have learnt that the journey towards interconnection and togetherness, the spiritual journey, is not one of distance, nor is it a journey of detachment, the spiritual journey is one of connection.

For me the spiritual life is essentially about connection. It is about connecting to a reality that is greater than our small selves. Living spiritually is about finding ways to connect to whatever it is that is of highest worth to us, whatever we hold sacred, whatever we regard as holy. It is about finding ways to connect through the daily interactions of our lives; it’s about learning how to live more openly even when the tough times come and those around us are refusing to do so.

This is not easy, especially when we see so many of those around us seemingly living more disconnectedly from all life and putting up barriers towards others. So how do we do this, you may well ask? Well I believe it begins with spiritual practise, it is this that will help us to connect in deeper and more meaningful ways.

I’d like to suggest a simple practise to you, one I came across in a book of meditations titled “Singing in the Night: Collected Meditations: Volume Five” edited by Mary Bernard. It is by David O. Rankin and is titled “Our Common Destiny”

“First, I must begin with my own creation. I must celebrate the miracle of evolution that resulted in a living entity named David. I must assist in the unfolding of the process by deciding who I am, by fashioning my own identity, by creating myself each day. I must listen to the terrors, the desires, the impulses that clash in the depths of my soul. I must know myself, or I will be made and used by others.

Second, I must learn to affirm my neighbours. I must respect others, not for their function, but for their being. I must put others at the centre of my attention, to treat them as ends, and to recognise our common destiny. I must never use people to win glory, or to measure the ego, or to escape from responsibility. I must listen to their words, their thoughts, their coded messages.

Finally, I must value action more than intention. I must feel, think, judge, decide, and then risk everything in acts of gratuitous freedom. I must batter the walls of loneliness. I must leap the barriers of communication. I must tear down the fences of anonymity. I must destroy the obstacles to life and liberty. Not in my mind (as a wistful dream). But in my acts (as a daily reality)."

Can we live as one? At one with ourselves, at one with one another, at one with those people who we see as being different to ourselves, can we live at one with all of life? Well I believe it is possible, I don’t see it as an impossible dream. It begins within our own hearts and souls and in the ways that we conduct our lives. It will not be easy though, as the forces of division are all around us and indeed within us.

Therefore it must begin within our own hearts and souls. in the way we live our own lives. It begins by learning to revere life as the most precious God given gift there is. If we do this we will surely no longer be able to create divisions within ourselves, one another and all life.

I'm going to end this little blogspot with some prayerful words by  Rick Hoyt titled “Beyond Borders”. I invite you still yourselves in a time of prayer…let us pray…

“Beyond Borders” by Rick Hoyt

Go forth
Because we are always going forth from somewhere

Going from our homes
Going from our childhoods and younger selves
Going from our cities and states and countries
Going from innocence to experience to enlightenment

Finding borders
Testing borders
Crossing borders.

Go forth
into the night
Because we are always going into some night,

Going into mystery
Going into questions
Going into the desert
Getting to the other side.

Go forth,
Eagerly or reluctantly
Leaving behind the comfort and joy and community and
familiarity of one place
Go forth, into the anxiety and sadness and loneliness and
strangeness of some other place.

Carry with you the love and laugther of this place
And let it light your spirit and your life and your way
as you make your journey.
Carry with you the wisdom you learned and the good memories of this place
And may they give you strength for your journey.

And when you have been away long enough,
far enough,
Done what you set off to do
Been there so long that
That place too, starts to feel like home.

Come back.
Come back.
Come back to the one, universal,
Everywhere and every when and everyone inclusive home,
This beloved community of all creation
That you cannot ever really leave.

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