Deeply Connected – Golden Threads
Presented on line on November 22nd, 2020 Rev. Fiona Heath
As Unitarian Universalists in Canada we say we have seven principles to guide our choices, six sources to nourish our spirits and five aspirations to help us grow.
These aspirations are unique to Canada and are intended to help us move towards our vision of a world in which our interdependence calls us to love and justice.
The first aspiration reads “we aspire to be deeply connected: we strive to foster healthy relationships amongst and within UU communities, with the broader world and with all life.”
This aspiration echoes our seventh principle – respect for the interdependent web of which we are a part.
For me this sense of connection is the essence of Unitarian Universalism. We are the religion of connecting – connecting to our inner self, to others, to the earth, to the mystery. Our lives are an endless series of dynamic connections.
Connection should be our middle name. Unitarian Connection Universalism.
Many of you have met my colleague the Rev. Peter Bolluta, who has been a guest speaker here. In 2006 Peter gave the Confluence Lecture, the lecture given each year by a Canadian UU minister at the annual conference. Peter argued that “Unitarianism needs to develop a theology …of place, belonging, that re-orients human beings to what we have already named ‘the interdependent web…’ That web is larger than us, awe-inspiring, breath-taking. We are not outside the web of life, imposing our will upon it, but embedded within it, one of a myriad of nodes in a complex net… Mutual relatedness must emerge as a central norm for Unitarian theology and practice”.
This is what has been happening here for the past 14 years.
Mutual relatedness is simply the observation of how life works on this planet – complex ecosystems of hundreds of species living together – feeding each other – all connected in the living web. This first aspiration directs us to the practice of mutual relatedness – by fostering healthy relationships.
Pagan activist Starhawk says that “when a system is whole and healthy, when it is based on relationships of interdependence and cooperation that further resilience, diversity, abundance, sustainability, creativity and freedom, it exhibits what humans call ‘justice’”.
By fostering healthy relationships we help to create justice. Thus living out our vision of our interdependence calling us to love and justice.
Right now we are struggling because of our interdependence. Centuries of human domination and destruction are coming back at us. We need healthy relationships to end racism and oppression of people, to end exploitation. To heal the atmosphere, to stop species extinction.
We are seeing just how deeply connected we are. The corona virus spreads through the air that surrounds us all – using our very breath of life – to help itself while harming us.
We are solving this with separation. It is not a great solution – definitely a blunt force – but it will I hope break the cycle of rising numbers. It’s hard though, because we are interdependent. To live in isolation from one another is not normal. And so we use technology to keep us connected – to keep us seeing each other even if we can not hug each other or sing together.
These past few months have made it clear to me that our interdependence is not just a scientific truth but a spiritual one.
We need one another.
It’s a spiritual truth I first learned many years ago.
When I was 18, just graduated from high school, we left Mississauga for Saskatoon for my Dad’s work. It wasn’t a surprise but that made it no less devastating. One of the first nights in Saskatoon I sobbed and sobbed and sobbed. For hours. And hours. Finally exhausted and drained, I was completely empty.
And into that emptiness came a dream, a vision, a sensation.
I had a visceral experience of an endless golden net, interwoven and uneven. Some threads were thick, some were thin, some joined up closely, other threads stretched far away into the distance. The net was magnificent. Beautiful. Comforting.
Being held in that net, seeing the threads connecting me, I became aware that distance didn’t end my connections. That while I was lonely, I was in a very real sense – not alone.
Maybe if I had been raised Christian, Jesus would have come to my aid that sad night. But I experienced a web of connection instead.
This web, this sense of being connected by golden threads, has been my go to in times of trouble ever since. While I have never felt it as strongly and clearly as I did that Saskatoon night, I still have a sense of those golden threads flowing all around me.
It reminds me that I am part of the whole, now and always. Even in the midst of this lockdown which will shrink my world back down to Marc, Tikko the dog and the cats.
We are all so deeply connected to one another and the earth. We are held in golden threads of life.
While we pause for an anthem from the choir, I invite you to consider your golden threads – where do your connections lead? What do they look like to you?
Second century AD Roman Emperor and Stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius’ wrote: “Everything is interwoven, and the web is holy…” The notion of deep connection is ancient knowledge.
In the seventh century, Chinese Buddhism created the metaphor of Indra’s Net. The God Indra creates a vast intricate net stretching out into infinity. At every point the threads meet, there is a sparkling jewel. Each jewel reflects other jewels in the net.
There is no centre, no beginning, no end, just threads and jewels shimmering together, reflecting one another. Indra’s net is a symbol of our mutual relatedness: all of us connected by golden threads. Each of us a shining jewel.
Now I grew up in an agnostic household and my public school education did not extend to ancient Chinese Buddhist philosophy. And yet like a roman emperor, like a Buddhist scholar, I too had an experience of the web of connection – golden threads stretching out everywhere.
Scientific and spiritual.
This is indigenous knowledge as well. The Anishinaabe and Haudenosaunee understood themselves as being in relationship with everything else in the world. Not as being lords above but in relationship with – they saw themselves as learning from the animals and plants and trees and water and earth around them – and receiving food and medicine and shelter – and in return took care of these beings – helped them to thrive as well.
Indigenous people learnt to live in relationship, in a world of reciprocity, of give and take among all beings.
Right now we live in a society – an economy – that is predicated on seeing the world as a collection of objects – to be used by us for our needs without regard for anything else. But our religious tradition has chosen this older, greater, deeper knowledge – we are part of the interdependent web of all existence.
UUism asks us to switch from seeing the world as a collection of objects to living as if the world is a communion of subjects (Thomas Berry).
And that isn’t easy in a world built on objectivity and separation. Integrating all the good we have gained with our old ways with this new world view will begin with small steps, personal choices.
This pandemic is reminding us we are creatures of breath and blood, vulnerable, perhaps this is an opportunity to reconnect to other creatures. We are vulnerable when we go out into the world, like the cardinals when they fly from the tree, the mouse when it ventures out into the grass. They have always ventured out into danger.
Perhaps this sense of vulnerability will help us extend our compassion to all our relatives.
A little girl is out in a rowboat on a lake with her dad on a bright summer’s day. She hears a great buzzing and looks down and sees a yellow jacket hornet resting on her arm. Her eyes get big and she looks to her Dad, insects terrify her.
Her father says “don’t move and the bee won’t bother you.” He keeps rowing. She’s scared and hisses at her Dad to do something.
Her Dad says “He’s tired. It’s a hot day and all living creatures need rest. He’s probably been flying up the lake and needs to give himself a break…Once he’s rested enough, he’ll keep on going.”
The girl is astonished. Just let the yellow jacket be? Nervously she looks down – seeing him in his yellow and black glory of a body. Wings folded neatly. He seems perfectly formed.
She begins to relax, and the insect flutters, tests his wings and flies off. The bee flies off over the water into the woods, away on his business. https://www.askalana.com/the-tired-bee-a-story-about-connection/
Her father treats the bee like a subject, a he with his own journey, not as a thing to be swatted away. And in doing so, helps his daughter see the bee that way too, and see herself as part of a great whole.
This is such a small moment but a vital one.
It takes time to breathe and let a hornet land on you without swatting it away. It takes time to see an insect as a being on a journey.
Living in a world of relationships, means to live in a world of complexity and reciprocity.
Managing relationships is challenging. It takes more time then just getting something done, acting and achieving. But it is worth it, to live in a living world of love and justice.
During this next lockdown I encourage you to consider the threads of relationship that bind you into the web.
Which ones hold you golden and glowing, the ones you know keep you connected? Which are getting thin and need some love and attention to glow brighter?
Which threads are tugging too hard on you – past your capacity? Is there a way you can loosen that thread, let it go slack for a time or bring another thread in to help? Are there knots in some of the threads, blocking your connections?
If you have room in your life for more threads, why not seek out relationships with our animal and plant kin? I know several of you have already gotten dogs.
You can also feed a hungry bird. Care for a plant. Help a tired bee. All small but vital steps connecting us to the larger life of this planet.
We aspire to be deeply connected: we strive to foster healthy relationships amongst and within UU communities, with the broader world and with all life.”
In the days to come may we all find ways to enhance the golden threads of our lives.
May we remember we live in kinship with all beings.
May we remember even as we distance from one another the threads between us remain strong.
So Say We All.