I am sharing a reflection on the many ways we experience separation and division in our lives and the reconciling hope that I have experienced through my personal soul work, belonging in community, what I offer to those I love and serve as a spiritual companion, and pray we may all carry and deepen into in 2019!
This reflection explores what I understand to be one of the most critical issues of our day: The apparent and experienced division and separateness within ourselves, in meaningful relationships, and in the interconnectedness of all created life. Alienation is deeply affecting the wellness, grounding and flourishing of the human ‘soul.’
I see a deep hunger in many people and communities to be accepted with a true sense of belonging. I believe the sense of disconnection and the challenge to live in harmonious relationships stems from generations of dualistic thinking and teaching, some unhealthy cultural belief systems, unhealed emotional and psychological wounding, and underdeveloped spiritual maturity. My deeper reflection in this critical dilemma is to ask where is there hope in this massive sense of separation and how do we heal from this loneliness and sense of lostness?
Catherine of Sienna tells us our deepest self is God which highlights there is no separation in God. She is not saying we are God, she is saying God can not be separated from us, nor we from God. If we believe or sense a separation, it is an illusion.
As a Christian, I rest in the belief that we are one with God. In 1 Corinthians 8:6 I read that there is one God from whom all things exist. I believe we are in God, and God is in all of us, as taught by Jesus when he prays to his Father asking that his disciples be protected so that they may be one with him and the Father even as they are one (John 17:11).
I was raised to believe that we are all born in original sin; we are lost and separated from God before we are found and belong. I spent years trying to measure up and get rid of the sin and separateness in my life, so I could be acceptable, connected and loved by God and God’s family. I was focused on pulling up the weeds, less desirable parts, in my life rather than allowing this to happen in God’s way and timing (Matthew 13:30).
I remember the freedom that I experienced when I heard another thought through the work of Matthew Fox – that we are all created as original blessings with the foundational belief that we are cherished by God, regardless of sin or our sense of feeling connected. Of course, some darkness is within us and all around, and we need forgiveness, healing and reconciliation as Jesus tells us in The Lord’s Prayer (Luke 11:4), however, this is not our primary position in our relationship with God. What this means to me is that I am created as a piece of God’s divinity, a true belonging child of God, rather than being made by a Creator as a separated being. The essence of this theology radically impacts our sense of one-ness with God.
One-ing is a word Julian of Norwich uses as an expression for our living in an active union with God and the Universe. I am drawn to this term and the hope it holds for all who live in some form of alienation. Her famous declaration that all shall be well is based on her belief in a Force of Love that moves through the universe and of One Who holds us fast and will never let us go.
The Biblical image of Jesus standing at the door of our hearts knocking to come in and eat with us is an image of the ever-present union God initiates with us, as he says, “I am standing”, I am (Rev. 3:20). Another Biblical image is God coming to Elijah in the whispering breeze which I personally experience and also teach in contemplative spiritual practices and work I offer at the Centre for Spiritual Renewal at St. Dunstan’s. I have experienced connecting with God in stillness, silence, and through symbols and images to bring a transformative presence and lasting sense of intimate belonging.
Father Richard Rohr teaches that at 6 years old we develop a sense of our separate self and that we then try to work, earn, or win our way back into our primal one-ness. Using a circle diagram he shows how our small circle self feels like it is outside the large circle of God but in actuality we are not separated. Our task is to come to an awareness and trust that we are always one with God, rather than striving to come back to belonging.
We can also experience disconnection from ourselves by not being anchored in who we are. Rohr explains that there is a wholeness that holds us, and that we fall into it when we stop excluding – even the “bad” and dark parts of ourselves. To overcome our sense of a divided and separate self it is necessary to embrace ourselves with awareness, acceptance, and inclusion of our underdeveloped and shadow parts. I call this “coming home” to ALL of me, where I can rest, grow, be at peace, and be recalled to my already true self as my eternal abiding place with God. I have been impacted by this kind of soul work and integration with a Jungian analyst over the past four years.
Inner work is an awkward dance, never a straight tidy line, as we come close to “home”, enter in, wander away, return, and transcend, over and over again. The spiritual journey of belonging is a gradual transformation into the realization and trust that we are already at home and nothing can actually take us from here.
St. John of the Cross has been an excellent companion while journeying through obscure times of sensing separation from God. I find his work on the dark night of the soul, along with Gerald May, to be invaluable when accompanying people in spiritual direction to reassure them of God’s deep work and presence in our lives when the dawn has not yet appeared.
There is a theory of separation that focuses on psychological pain, interpersonal and existential, that exists and has negative effects on our lives. In my personal life and ministry as a spiritual director I witness interpersonal pain caused by deprivation, violence, and rejection during the early years by family members or other significant figures. The embedded belief systems of aloneness, shame, and abandonment result in an active disconnection from who we really are.
Existential pain refers to the basic problems we face of true aloneness, aging, and death, and other life experiences such as racism, crime, poverty, and political oppression. Once again, awareness and understanding of these real problems invites us to deal with what is true, accept our realities, let go of illusions, heal and transform with compassionate care, inner soul work, and healthy mentoring and community life.
The ways many people and societies are disregarding and destroying the Earth, and other countries, shows how disconnected our lives can be from our inter-relatedness with all living things. As we connect with our true one-ness with God, take care of ourselves, and heal with each other, I believe this wellness will ripple out into all that we touch and impact the world.
Three keys that I believe open hope to alienation are to: come home to our true selves by accepting and healing our underdeveloped and wounded parts, rest deeply in our true eternal belonging in God, and develop safe inter-generational non-dualistic communities where our original goodness is mirrored, and belonging is experienced! I believe as we do our personal and relational work with these ways of belonging, integrate them in our family life and societies, connect and build community life with the next generations, and teach and model resolution in conflict, our individual and universal soul will know her true belonging and thrive. I would call the door for these keys ‘Reconciliation’ and that this reconciliation comes to us through Christ who has also given us the ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18.)
Co-existing in a relationship, family system, or global society where we belong regardless of our differences is significant and necessary to experience an authentic and sustainable belonging. Holding space for our many different views, diverse realities, varieties of cultural norms, and theological perspectives has been a steep learning curve for me; one that has stretched over the past couple of decades. Traversing the challenges of separation and exile from a narrow exclusive experience of God and religion has brought me through painful and uncomfortable shifts that have led me to embrace ecumenical gatherings and engage in interfaith dialogue and relationships. I am more balanced and richer as a person when I wonder and welcome different beliefs, traditions, and interests while keeping what I value and treasure as true, beautiful and sacred.
Having five teenagers in my 30 years of parenting, accompanying many people as their spiritual director, and passing through the deepest waters of loss and grief, have given me many opportunities to hold space for others to be and think differently. It has been both terrifying and exhilarating to agree to disagree, surrender to the desire for control, and come to appreciate the diversity we all bring to the Table of Life. When we live with healthy pluralism the unresolvable is resolved without being solved and we see ways we complete each other rather than compete with each other. Looking at differences often bring us to a third way of reconciliation that is more powerful than the way it was before.
May our names for God, and experiences with the Divine, continue to be as varied as the stars in the sky, and yet all shine of the One Holy Light which is where and with Whom we belong as one human family. Happy Epiphany dear friends – Arise, shine, Our Light has come!