A few days ago after receiving attention at ‘Emergency’ for a suspected heart malfunction; at close to midnight I was driven by ambulance to another hospital I had never seen or heard of to have a C.T. Scan. Throughout this trauma I kept asking God “What are you saying to me through all this?” Sitting in a wheel chair, alone in a grey corridor, in the dimly lit ward I saw a crumpled figure on a bed, an aged woman in obvious discomfort. What was her story? Was she somebody’s mother, sister, wife, or daughter and then it struck me – though strangers we were all ‘connected’. Members of the human family. Nameless, unknown, but sharing a sense of separation, loneliness and suffering. It was an epiphany.
Subsequent reflection brought further facts to mind. Covid-19 has confirmed we are all interconnected. Global warming and the ecological crisis have revealed all creation is interdependent. Co-dependence, relatedness, cause and effect is evident among all living creatures, throughout the visible and invisible world. This evidence was underlined for me in the writings of a Franciscan priest, Richard Rohr, a Jewish Rabbi, Naomi Levy and the renowned scientist, Albert Einstein. Each one, in a different way, affirms the sense of separateness is a delusion.
In response to a Rabbi grieving the death of a young son Einstein wrote, ‘A human being is part of the whole, called by us “Universe”, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separate from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. The striving to free oneself from this delusion is the one issue of true religion.’
Rohr acknowledges, with regret, the Christian church (in particular the Western branch) erred when, influenced by Greek philosophy together with its adoption by Constantine, in its teaching it separated divine and human, spirit and matter, and in so doing inadvertently contradicted the incarnation in which God ‘was made flesh and lived among us’. It said ‘man’ was born in sin and flesh was evil, even though from the beginning God had pronounced his creation ‘Very good”. How could God who is love create something evil?
We are only separated from God in our mind. Here is where our human ego enters the equation. Rohr speaks of the True Self and False Self. The latter being aligned with the ego which elevates both reason and will to assert its place above God. Our True Self is what we are in God at birth – his creation, with the potential to respond to him. We are living souls in a human body, not human bodies with a soul.
This is where Rabbi Naomi Levy enters my thinking. Schooled by Judaism’s teaching of the Narrow Mind and the Expansive Mind (which I think are the equivalent of Rohr’s False and True Self) she was initially troubled by a reoccurring sensation of the presence of the ‘soul’ of her departed father. Troubled by this her teacher assured her it was a ‘gift’. Coming across the quote from Einstein’s letter she was intrigued by ‘the need to free oneself from this delusion of separateness’. Through her Expansive Mind she realized her father’s soul was connected to her and hers to him and the whole ‘Universe, (or God). She writes ‘Our sense of separateness causes us so much pain and confusion and loneliness, when in reality all things are connected and intertwined – in a unity that holds all things together’ – including the universe and all living creatures.
Religions use different images for the Great Mystery, but the hunger for and experience of God is closely related. Jesus was not a Christian. He was a Jew through whose life the nature and mind of God was revealed. He did not speak of the immortality of the soul, but he did speak of the soul: it cannot be killed (Mt.10:28), it cannot be exchanged (Mt.16:26) it can be filled with sorrow (Mk.14:34), it can love God (Mk.12.30). There are numerous references to the ‘soul’ in the Old Testament and in Jewish tradition. The soul is created by God. That our soul can come alive and be connected to God is the essence of all true religion. When we worship together, our spirit, or soul and the soul of those who have died are connected. We are one family in God, seen and unseen.
The day after my brief hospital experience four people, including our minister, arrived unexpectedly at my home bringing with them the elements used in Holy Communion including the cloth skillfully crocheted with Christian symbols by my late wife. As together we received the tangible symbols of Christ’s body and blood, the delusion of separateness dissolved. We were connected. Christ was present and, for me (through the Expansive Mind), so was the ‘soul’ of my dear wife and those of that great cloud of witnesses we call ‘the company of heaven’. They are with us. We are connected together with God, so we can live in the freedom of the resurrection reality, “I in you and you in Me’.