Over the years, I’ve thought and written a lot about the idea of interconnection. I think it’s one of the most brilliant conclusions of modern science, from biology to physics to sociology. It echoes the insights of our religious traditions—spanning the doctrine of the Trinity to the revelations of the mystics to the thoughtful words of Pope Francis in his encyclical “Laudato Si’.” That all things are in some way related to all other things seems to be a basic operating principle of God’s creation.
It’s one thing to believe that all things are connected. It’s another thing entirely for that idea to become real in your life, to drop down from an intellectual belief in your head to a felt reality in your heart and a lived behavior in your everyday dealings. Certainly, with today’s angry, polarized politics and its sinfully obscene levels of income inequality, most of us don’t act as if we need each other—much less as if we need the natural world of healthy farms, forests, grasslands, and oceans.
One reason we fool ourselves into thinking we can be independent is because recognizing our need for others means coming to grips with our vulnerability. For most of us, particularly us men, this is no easy task since it goes against the grain of rugged individualism, which is the warp and weft of our cultural fabric.
A Painful Reminder
This past summer, I had an experience that brought vulnerability home to me in a powerful way. In a freak diving accident, I tore off my patellar (kneecap) tendon and needed surgery to put my knee back together. These months of my recovery have been ones of painful disability and an utter dependence on the kindness of others who have helped me hobble around, done the chores I couldn’t do, and generally made it possible for me to manage.
There has been a certain degree of humiliation in all of this: I’ve had to swallow my stubborn male pride and just allow myself to be helped. On the other hand, this period has been wonderful. When you realize that people are there for you, with their love, help, and prayers, vulnerability becomes an amazing gift and a great relief. Like all good humiliations, it returns you to the fundamental ground of your being, which is your deep, irrevocable, and beautiful belonging.
After doing it such grievous harm in recent centuries, I believe we are finally beginning to realize that even our tough old earth is vulnerable. Through our technology and our sheer human numbers, we can (and have) upset the delicate balance of its many interconnected systems. At the same time, however, amid our injuries to the earth there is also a great opportunity: the chance to make real in our hearts, and in our individual and collective behavior, that both we and creation belong together, wonderfully and inescapably. In its beauty, in its wildness, in its generosity and woundedness and resilience and diversity, this blue-green planet is our one, common, God-given home.
TIPS: Interconnectedness in Action
1) Here’s a thought experiment in interconnection: Think of everything you spend money on in a given month and consider all the people who provided you those goods and services. Then imagine trying to do or make all those things for yourself. Consider saying a prayer of gratitude not just for your meals, but for everything that flows into your life.
2) In addition to considering how you can be of service, reflect on how you might allow others to help you. For inspiration, learn more about Jean Vanier and his L’Arche intentional communities.