Sharing the Same Taproot | February 21, 2021 Message From Dr. Benton
It took me perhaps two hours to scour the Internet looking for a suitable version of this song for today…I still couldn’t find one that affected me as much as the one played by Dr. Carl Blake last week at our Fellowship Zoom meeting! Still, this one spoke to me because of its simplicity and depth. It is a song that touches what I would like to refer to as the “taproot” …that deep urge for life and growth…for love and justice…to turn away from fear and hate. It touches our humanity…but more than that…our biophilia…our love of life…the common life from which we have sprung.
A taproot is made from the radicle…the part of the seed that goes into the soil to anchor the plant. It is the first part of the plant to emerge from the seed. The radicle symbolizes life’s need to be rooted in the Earth, our home…our need, not only to grow upward, but also to sink our roots deep in the soil of life. When we are well-rooted in rich, nourishing soil, we are able to flourish. It is this flourishing that our opening music spoke to. Here is a video of a dancer’s interpretation of the song:
This is a wonderful representation of the struggle of life and it reminds me of the struggle of a baby, who wants to crawl and walk…to live each moment to his fullest potential…like that seed sending out a radicle and a sprout.
Two weeks ago, I became a grandmother again when my youngest son, Nick and his wife had a baby boy. This is my second grandson born amidst the turmoil of the coronavirus pandemic, as well as the chaos of the assault on our Mother Earth and our cherished ideals and hopes for a Beloved Community. I am privileged to witness this striving for to moment of the high resolve of the human species…life in its most elemental state. When I look into Fred Jr.’s eyes I see this thirst for life…this deep reservoir of hope and excitement…of his attempt to connect with me at a level that I can only describe as radicle…at the root level. I am reminded of this poem by Hafiz, the most beloved poet of Iran:
There is a game we should play,
And it goes like this:
We hold hands and look into each other's eyes
And scan each other's face.
Then I say,
"Now tell me a difference you see between us."
And you might respond,
"Hafiz, your nose is ten times bigger than mine!"
Then I would say,
"Yes, my dear, almost ten times!"
But let's keep playing.
Let's go deeper,
For if we do,
Our spirits will embrace
Our union will be so glorious
That even God
Will not be able to tell us apart.
There is a wonderful game
We should play with everyone
And it goes like this...
This poem playfully celebrates love...every expression of love in the universe. The lyrics "overflow with a profound appreciation of the beauty and richness of life when seen through the eyes of love." His poetry traces the mystic's "path of love" - that journey of inner unfolding in which love dissolves personal boundaries and limitations to join larger processes of growth and transformation...where human love becomes divine love...and the lover merges with what Hafiz calls "the Beloved."
In the poem, Hafiz describes a "game" we should play...looking into each other's eyes. I think Hafiz is alluding to the process of truly getting to know someone...beyond their sex, their race, their class...beyond their physical characteristics, their disability status, their sexual orientation...beyond all their troublesome behaviors...stripped to the literal substance of themselves.
The "Religion of Jesus" makes this love-ethic central...the call to love even our enemies...even those who persecute or annoy us...even those whose politics we do not agree with. This teaching is embodied in the words: "Hear O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord: and thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might," and "thy neighbor as thyself." Of course, Jesus' definition of "neighbor" was quite broad. He believed that every person is potentially a neighbor to every other person. In difficult times, such as has been happening on a regular basis, most recently with the winter storms in places like South Texas, we have seen this happen spontaneously. People who would never have come into contact with each other, find themselves sharing food and shelter. This speeds up the process that Hafiz was describing...the small differences we might see become unimportant and we may even go deeper with them and form true friendships...we may find that we truly love that person.
But normally this process takes time. It takes a process of lingering with
one another...a process that includes taking the time to really get to know someone...beyond the surface. It takes going deeper than we usually go with people. It is an experience that can cause our spirits to embrace...to cooperate with each other so that some amazing work can be done. This is what the poet was talking about...that "glorious union"...the union that leads to the growth and transformation of the soul.
This is the premise of our own community, Fellowship Church. Thurman calls this "reverence for personality". He says that this reverence is applicable between people for which the heavy weight of status has been sloughed off...the place where, "...each person meets the other where he is and there treats him as if he were where he ought to be." Thurman says that it is here that, "... we emerge into an area where love operates, revealing a universal characteristic unbounded by special or limited circumstances."
Now I don’t want to give anyone the impression that I think this is always possible or that it is easy. I know it is not. My own brother has embraced conservative politics. I do not want to talk with him, but I do. I also have a client who was a life-long democrat and jumped on the Trump train. I speak with him a couple of times a month. I feel like I have been able to come to a place where I have tried to treat him as if he is where he ought to be…to the place unbounded by the specific circumstances of our times. I don’t know if we will ever agree on how to proceed with social programs…or to a place where we cannot tell each other apart, but we still continue the game. We have, at times, come to the place of the soul...the place where the outer behaviors and characteristics have melted away. It is in this place that the work has been done...the work of growth and transformation. Without this connection, I don't think this client could gain anything of value from our sessions and of course neither would I.
I was challenged this week by Mr. Felix Justice to deal with one more example of a Trump fan…of someone who was known as a liberal democrat most of his life; but succumbed to the lure of Trump’s hateful rhetoric. His name is W. McCall Calhoun, Jr. of Americus, Georgia. He “gave money to Democrats” and “zealously championed Democratic policies in social circles” even when others did not agree with him. But last year, “Mr. Calhoun, whose family had long roots in the state suddenly abandoned the Democrats” …and even stated, “I have tons of ammo. Gonna use it too…on racist democrat communists. So, make my day.” Mr. Calhoun went on to stockpile weapons and plan his visit to the Capitol on January 6th. I think Felix was asking, “How do we explain this?” I don’t think I am equipped to do that. I might rather hear this from Felix or someone else, but here’s what I do know. Each one of us is planted in soil…the soil of our home. This includes not only our family, but other influences in our lives. I, for example, was born and raised in upstate New York in segregated areas. I knew people who were openly racist, but I also knew those that outwardly espoused racial equality but whose experience told them something different. They were and still are recipients of White privilege. And Mr. Calhoun is not different. He went to all-white school and was a product of segregation in his own “soil”. Although he was outwardly a “liberal democrat”, he had the experience of White privilege that taught him that he was superior to Black people and immigrants. When Trump came along, Mr. Calhoun, who I suspect never went to that deep place Hafiz spoke of with someone outside of his social and racial group, snapped. I think he realized that his privilege and superior status might be threatened. This caused the fear necessary to follow Trump.
Lakota teacher Buck Ghosthorse, who worked with Matthew Fox, said that “in our tradition, fear is the door in the heart that lets evil spirits in.” I think this is what happened to Mr. Calhoun. Having never had the experience of what Thurman called “contacts with fellowship” …of the kind of understanding that Hafiz spoke of…where our spirits embrace and interweave with someone different from ourselves, he became afraid that his entire life was threatened…his guns, his way of life, his power. This “let the evil spirits into his heart.”
The evil spirits are certainly abroad. We cannot escape them…in Washington, in Chinatown, in our own communities. Is it time that we confronted them with the power Hafiz spoke of…the power of our commonality and our love?
Much like Hafiz, Tolstoy knew of this trysting place where this game is played out. He wrote:
To love everyone seems difficult,
but at first all things seem difficult
until you learn how to do them.
We can and must learn how to love all people.
Do not ask God to unite you.
[God] has made you one already
by placing his one and the same spirit in you all.
Only cast off the things which divide you, and you will be one.
So, we are already one...one by virtue of being fashioned by the same creator...one by virtue of the connections we have with one another. We need each other just as we need our Mother Earth, the moon, the stars...the whole universe. We are indeed a web of mutuality…of interdependence.
But what happens when we are unable to love everyone? This is when our whole life can be thrown out of tune. Even God seems far away at this point. This is when we must fully realize our need of each other...when we become vulnerable. And it is this vulnerability...this need that allows others in.
In order to come to this place of need...this place of vulnerability, we must engage with those that are afraid…those who have let the evil spirits into their hearts…those who have forgotten our common heritage...have forgotten (or perhaps never knew) of our common taproot. As we strive to love everyone...even our enemies...even those who are caught in a cycle of fear that separates us, let us remember our common origins...our divine source as we meditate on this prayer by Dr. Howard Thurman entitled, Surrounded by the Love of God:
I am surrounded by the love of God.
The earth beneath our feet is the great womb out of which...life depends. There is at work in the soil a mystery by which the death of one seed is reborn a thousandfold in newness of life. The magic of the wind, sun and rain creates a climate that nourishes every living thing. It is law, and more than law; it is order, and more than order - there is a brooding tenderness out of which it all comes. In the contemplation of the earth, we know that we are surrounded by the love of God.
The edge of hope that constantly invades the seasoned grounds of despair, the faith that keeps watch at the doors through which pass all the labors of our lives and hearts for what is right and true, the hunger of our hearts for companionship and love, the impulse to forgive and to seek forgiveness even when the injury is sharp and clear - these and countless other things make us know that by day and by night our lives are surrounded by the love of God.
May we rest in the mystery of the newness and goodness of life and may our awareness of the love of God, the all-pervading presence, bring the moment of our high resolve before us at all times. May the edge of hope invade the grounds of despair and may our love of life cause us to play the game of love with all of God’s creation. Amen