A short article entitled Nothing Stands Alone had me thinking about the relationships that are vital to our lives. Everybody gets lonely. Everybody reaches out for connections. The needs differ, but the impulse is universal.
Yet when one looks at today’s world, much of the dysfunction comes from our resistance to the idea of our need for strong relationships, to the idea of our inherent oneness as Franciscan friar and ecumenical teacher Richard Rohr phrases it. I see that resistance on the personal, the communal and political, and the spiritual levels.
So let’s think briefly about each of those areas.
As I age, the necessity of relationships and the great harm that results from personal isolation come into sharper focus. We all face reckonings as we get older, and for me part of that reckoning has been an acceptance that I depend on the support and kindness of others much more than I was willing to admit when I was younger.
Kathleen Dowling Singh points to how we should use the time as we age to accept the way things actually exist.
To live a life of an elder is to ripen into being that is more than simply elderly, more than just old. It involves ripening into clear-eyed acceptance of the way things actually exist. That ripening involves, for each of us, many difficult reckonings in the multifaceted, multidimensional understanding that everything that can be lost will be lost. . . .
It was easy when I was younger to take an introverted nature and transform it into a fear of connections. I’ve also had the tendency to go it alone because I didn’t trust others to do something the way I want it done. Collaboration, however, moves at the speed of trust. The poet David Wythe has noted that relationships are mostly sustained, and true collaborations built, through holding necessary and courageous conversations. Yet we tend to shy away from these types of conversations.
Singh suggests that being mindful of our impermanence helps us “remain in remembrance of our longing to exist in wisdom and love and compassion.” Gaining a clear-eyed acceptance of the way things are leads us to seek to understand how the world is truly built on relationships. Wisdom, love, and compassion are all wrapped up in an understanding that nothing stands alone.
Communal and Political
Americans are not alone in eschewing relationships, but we may be near the top of the world leaderboard. We have a myth in this country that the true American is a rugged individualist, a trait that has been used to define our freedom. From the colonizers who left family and friends for a new world, to the western cowboy who rides herd on an isolated plain, to the individual genius high-tech inventor, we hear that we make ourselves as people and that any reliance on others takes us into the realm of socialism.
Unfortunately, that myth is rarely true. And it is a story that tears our country apart.
Rich oligarchs tap into the extraordinary strength of the ideology of American freedom, as perpetuated in myths such as the western cowboy, while undermining freedom and liberty for anyone who is not white and male. And the examples are as fresh as today’s headlines. Our banks and government support business interests over labor rather than face this truth and the appalling impact it has on fellow humans, other creatures, and the world in which we live.
In a recent post I suggested that the top 0.1% is working hard to obscure the fact that it is in the best interest of 90% of Americans to seek out what Heather McGhee has called a solidarity dividend that supports workers and those who need a hand. To achieve their goal, those at the top want us to forget that these individuals are human beings: real, breathing, loving people, striving to advance — or just make it — and meet their own American dream.
As much as the oligarchs want us to believe otherwise, we all live in relationship. Nothing stands alone. The late Senator Paul Wellstone once put it so well: “We all do better when we all do better.”
Singh’s writing has been summed up in one sentence: “The process of death is exquisitely calibrated to bring us into the realm of spirit.” With aging, I’m trying to increase my focus on that realm, and especially in the spiritual nature of relationships.
Too much of what is deemed religious in today’s world disregards our relationships and our responsibilities for caring for others. In response to recent actions by political figures who claim to be good Catholics, evangelical leader Jim Wallis has written that “there is nothing faithful, and certainly nothing Catholic, about using people as political props.”
Richard Rohr posits that our present challenges, “from ecological devastation to systemic inequality, stem from one of the primary causes of scapegoating thoughts and actions — forgetting our inherent oneness. What could happen,” he asks, “if we embraced the idea of God as relationship — with ourselves, each other, and the world? Is salvation simply the willingness to remain in loving relationship with all creation?”
What a compelling thought to take into the week.
More to come…