Video by Devon Young of LaYoung Media. From the album “Spinoza’s Dream” (https://shop.bandwear.com/collections…) . If you would like to donate to a nonprofit organization providing free mental health services to U.S. military personnel and families affected by their time of service, visit Give An Hour: http://www.giveanhour.org .
As a rule, Christians were more interested in the superiority of our own group or nation than we were in the wholeness of creation. Our view of reality was largely imperial, patriarchal, and dualistic. Things were seen as either for us or against us, and we were either winners or losers, totally good or totally bad—such a small self and its personal salvation remained Christianity’s overwhelming preoccupation up to now. This is surely how our religion became so focused on obedience and conformity, instead of on love in any practical or expanding sense.
Without a Shared and Big Story, all humans retreat into private individualism for a bit of sanity and safety.
Perhaps the primary example of Christians’ lack of attention to the Christ Mystery can be seen in the way we continue to pollute and ravage planet Earth, the very thing we all stand on and live from. Science now appears to love and respect physicality more than most religion does! No wonder that science and business have taken over as the major explainers of meaning for most people today (even many who still go to church). Christians did not take this world seriously, I am afraid, because our notion of God or salvation didn’t include or honor the physical universe. And now, I am afraid, the world does not take Christianity seriously.
The kind of wholeness I’m describing as the Universal Christ is a forgotten treasure of the Christian Tradition that our postmodern world no longer enjoys and even vigorously denies. I always wonder why, after the rise of rationalism in the Enlightenment, Westerners would prefer such incoherence. I thought we had agreed that coherence, pattern, and some final meaning were good. But intellectuals in the last century have denied the existence and power of such great wholeness—and in Christianity, we have made the mistake of limiting the Creator’s presence to just one human manifestation, Jesus.
The implications of our selective seeing have been massively destructive for history and humanity. Creation was deemed profane, a pretty accident, a mere backdrop for the real drama of God’s concern—which we narcissistically assumed is always and only us humans. It is impossible to make individuals feel sacred inside of a profane, empty, or accidental universe. This way of seeing makes us feel separate and competitive, striving to be superior instead of deeply connected and in search of ever-larger circles of union.
I believe God loves things by becoming them. God loves things by uniting with them, not by excluding them. Through the act of creation, God manifested the eternally out-flowing Divine Presence into the physical and material world. Ordinary matter is the hiding place for Spirit and thus the very Body of God. Honestly, what else could it be, if we believe—as orthodox Jews, Christians, and Muslims do—that “one God created all things”? Since the very beginning of time, God’s Spirit has been revealing its glory and goodness through the physical creation. So many of the Psalms assert this, speaking of “rivers clapping their hands” and “mountains singing for joy.” When Paul wrote, “There is only Christ. He is everything and he is in everything” (Colossians 3:11), was he a naïve pantheist or did he really understand the full implication of the Gospel of Incarnation?
God seems to have chosen to manifest the invisible in what we call the “visible,” so that all things visible are the revelation of God’s endlessly diffusive spiritual energy. Once a person recognizes that, it is hard to ever be lonely in this world again.
.. Parker Palmer’s words:
“Wholeness is the goal, but wholeness does not mean perfection. It means embracing brokenness as an integral part of life.”
I remember being surprised that I resonated so deeply with the quote. I actually didn’t consider myself a perfectionist — it felt impossible when I was constantly haunted by all the mistakes I make, everywhere, all the time.
Perfectionism is my water, I’m telling you! But I’m thankful to writers like Parker who have gifted me with the language of wholeness, that beautiful and difficult alternative to perfection. This week’s On Being guest, physician and storyteller Rachel Naomi Remen, is another healthy critic of our perfectionist culture, which she calls “a major addiction of our time.”
.. “Wholeness is never lost, it is only forgotten.”
.. What a wise way to frame wholeness — not as an achievement, but rather as the reality of being present to who we are, in its entirety, at this very moment.
.. “There are no shortcuts to wholeness. The only way to become whole is to put our arms lovingly around everything we’ve shown ourselves to be: self-serving and generous, spiteful and compassionate, cowardly and courageous, treacherous and trustworthy. We must be able to say to ourselves and to the world at large, ‘I am all of the above.’”
The first step toward healing is truthfully acknowledging evil, while trusting the inherent goodness of reality.
Knowing and naming brokenness is essential in the journey toward wholeness. We will not be well by denying the wrongs that we carry within us as nations and religions and communities. Nor will we be well by downplaying them or projecting them onto others. The path to wholeness will take us not around such awareness but through it, confronting the depths of our brokenness. . . . As Hildegard of Bingen [1098–1179] says, we need two wings with which to fly. One is the “knowledge of good,” and the other is the “knowledge of evil.”  If we lack one or the other, we will be like an eagle with only one wing. We will fall to the ground instead of rising to the heights of unitary vision. . . .
.. In July 1942, the same month that the Nazis began their first big street roundups of Jews in Amsterdam, Etty Hillesum wrote in her diary, “I am with the hungry, with the ill-treated and the dying, every day, but I am also with the jasmine and with that piece of sky beyond my window; . . . It is a question of living life from minute to minute and taking suffering into the bargain. And it is certainly no small bargain these days.”  Etty was looking at suffering straight in the face. Her friends, her family, and she herself were under the sentence of extermination. It was now beginning to be carried out. And yet Etty held within herself the “handsome mixture” of pain at the plight of her people, and of what one people can do to another people, along with a continued delight in the gift of life and its ineffable wonder. “I have looked our destruction, our miserable end, which has already begun in so many small ways in our daily life, straight in the eye . . .” she writes, “and my love of life has not been diminished.”  To look life straight in the eye, to see its pain and to see its beauty—this is an essential part of glimpsing the way forward.
Love must always precede knowledge. The mind alone cannot get us there (which is the great arrogance of most Western religion). Prayer in my later years has become letting myself be nakedly known, exactly as I am, in all my ordinariness and shadow, face to face, without any masks or religious makeup. Such nakedness is a falling into the unified field underneath reality, what Thomas Merton called “a hidden wholeness,”  where we know in a different way and from a different source. This is the contemplative’s unique access point: knowing by union with a thing, where we can enjoy an intuitive grasp of wholeness, a truth beyond words, beyond any need or capacity to prove anything right or wrong. This is the contemplative mind which religion should have directly taught, but which it largely lost.
Mimetic rivalry replaces acquisitive desire for coveted things when the rivals become aware at an unconscious level that they “lack” part of what it is to be a complete human being. The rivals’ experience of their own lack therefore entails a “misrecognition” of the other as whole and complete. The other is seen as the representative of “genuine” personhood: s/he is the “model” that embodies the desires and possessions that constitute “authentic” human being. At bottom, rivals covet not a common object but each other’s “wholeness.”