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  • Writer's pictureThe Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples

Unimagined Possibilities | October 1, 2023 Rev. Dr. Kathryn Benton

...once we resolve to see clearly how things are, the process of healing – a word that, at its root means “returning to wholeness” – can begin. That statement contains…the recognition that each of us contains as-yet-unimagined possibilities for wellness…

The opening quote comes from a mentor of mine, Gabor Maté from his book, The Myth of Normal. This book, focused on healing and wholeness, has clarified for me many truths that I was partially able to articulate in a spiritual realm but not in the realm of physical or emotional healing. He says that our “illnesses” are, in reality, a reaction to trauma in our environment...our surroundings. Almost without exception, he says, that our “illnesses” are not what we have termed genetic. Instead we have what he calls an interpersonal biology…an internal community that is not fully set apart from the other communities around us. Maté says that this community…this reality “knows only oneness”.

This unity has been echoed in all traditions throughout history. Native Americans refer to All our Relations. Thich Nhat Hanh says, …there are no separate entities, only manifestations that rely on each other to be possible. The Bhagavad Gita says, …they live in wisdom who are themselves in all and all in them. Rumi said…Remember the One until you forget “two”. Our own Howard Thurman said:

Every living thing, including man…every living thing belongs to every other living thing. I can never be what I ought to be until the last living manifestation is what it ought to be…for better or for worse,

tied into the idiom of everything that lives.

If I forget this, I profane God’s creation.

If I remember it I come to myself in you and you come to yourself in me.

Thurman is talking here about the healing of trauma and the ability to live our lives in the full knowledge of our connectedness…the influence our actions have on the whole and the influence of other actions have on us. It is our purpose, according to the translation of the Lord’s Prayer by Neil Douglas Klotz, to unite the communities within. And this is what Maté means by oneness. He says that it is not just the mind/body reality…the bio-psychological reality, but also the social and indeed the societal reality that is included in those communities within.

Maté goes on to discuss the broader aspect of this societal reality…our “toxic culture”. It does not bode well for us if we are swimming in the sea of an individualistic, materialistic system of capitalism that stresses consumerism, individual competition and an ability to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps. This mindset breeds disconnection, alienation, loneliness, loss of meaning and dislocation…a sense that we do not belong in this universe. This system does speak to a part of us…that individual, private identity that we seem to be. Thurman puts it like this:

There is something so private and personal about an act of thought that the individual may very easily seem to be a private island on a boundless human sea. To experience one’s self is to enter into a solitary world that is one’s unique possession and that can never be completely and utterly shared.

This private and personal world…one’s unique possession that cannot be completely shared is what Thurman calls the altar of the soul. He speaks of the trysting place with the all-pervading spirit where we are able to work out our life’s working paper…where we face the angel with the flaming sword, who makes sure that nothing is place on that altar unless it is part of the fluid area of your consent. He says this is our crucial link to the eternal.

This recording is perhaps the best illustration of this dialectic…the individual and the individual within the community. They are singing about our individual spirit in a context of a community of voices. This is community…it is something that can respect the sacredness of the personality while acknowledging the fact that we do not actually exist as distinct individuals. We need both realizations in order to develop and nurture community.

This is what Thurman was thinking about when he, Dr. Fisk and the founding members envisioned this church. It was to be a place where there was respect for the individual…the creative expression of each human being in the context of a community that provides space for the spirit as well. His dream for the church is reflected, I think, in these words from Sobonfu Somé:

A community is an environment where you can find a home in each other’s heart and soul. It is a living entity with spirit as its anchor, where a group of people are empowered by one another, by spirit, and by the ancestors to be themselves, carry out their purpose, and use their power responsibly…The goal of community is to form a diverse body of people with common goals and empower them to embrace their gifts, selves, and nature. Community holds a space for all its members to work at becoming as close to their true selves as possible.

This is a beautiful description of what we can hope for…what we can imagine to be a community based on the truths of oneness and wholeness…of unity and interdependence. If we are truly able to hold a space for all, then we may come to the place Howard Thurman dreamed of in the book The Search for Common Ground. He spoke of the alarm that will spread throughout the community that it is being felt and slowly realized that community cannot feed for long on itself; it can only flourish where always the boundaries are giving way to the coming of other brothers [and sisters] from beyond them…He continued:

What we have sought we have found, our own sense of identity. We have an established center out of which at last we can function and relate to [others]. We have committed to heart and to nervous system a feeling of belonging and our spirits are no longer isolated and afraid…. [We need to resist the] “will to quarantine” and to separate ourselves behind self-imposed walls.

And resisting this “will to quarantine” is no easy task in our “toxic culture”. It has become even more difficult through the years since 1944 and the founding of this church. Today we are experiencing an isolation…a loneliness perhaps never before experienced. We have become disconnected from our source…our creator and creation…from our ancestors and from our sense of the sacred…of the spirit. At the same time there is some cause for hope. It is the as-yet unimagined possibilities that Maté spoke of…the unimagined possibilities that we may experience during the Community Zoom meeting on the second Sunday of the month…the connection we experience during the Engaged Spirituality Meeting on the fourth Sunday…and our worship services on the first, third and fifth Sundays. In a broader sense in our communities, we can identify and help to develop this sense of belonging to combat isolation and disconnection…alienation and loneliness. For as Howard Thurman points out:

…this is why we were born: [People, all people], belong to each other, and [the one] who shuts themself away diminishes themself, and [the one] who shuts another away from themself destroys themself.

May we internalize this realization. May we truly understand that we belong to each other…as human beings, as creatures, as plants, as the wind and the rain and the sun and the moon…as part of all creation and may we try to imagine the as-yet-unimagined possibilities calling us to wholeness and unity.

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