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Saturday, August 3, 2013
Language is meant to build bridges. Yet how often language divides.
- David Steindl-Rast, O.S.B.
Some bishops, meeting in Roanoke back in July, got me thinking afresh about "bridges."
In fact, rarely do I not think of bridges. What structure can evoke such a sense of journey and connectivity? At some point in life, the whole universe begins appearing to us as a network of circuitry.
Growing up, my brothers and I considered any bridge a thrilling point of entry into the unknown. Whether a notched log over a creek or an old rail trestle, with nose-piercing hot creosote cooking stickily in the noon sunshine, and whooshed with mysterious cool updrafts from a river below, a bridge beckoned us to cross.
Particularly we loved the bouncy, uncertain old swinging bridges in our mountains, ingeniously constructed long ago across deep creeks, rock-face ravines and thin air. Would we die? It was never clear.
Transiting such a trembling-with-life collection of planks evoked a reverent stir in the belly and chills in the arms: a sense of dangling in a gap, a wind-twitched holy space between mountains, between histories, between deep creek rapids and high clouds.
Over time, with any desire for it and some unseen help, a person starts to connect dots - to recognize the invisible bridges between people, species, elements and poles.
You start suspecting that the whole universe truly is "one song," and that you are just beginning to understand some of its hidden circuitry.
Physicists, biologists, consciousness researchers have been saying this for years. The mystics have said it for millennia.
Take Rumi, a Persian Sufi poet circa 1250. A conduit of a person himself, beloved today by both Iranian and U.S. leaders, Rumi perceived us all connected by simply "being."
"No being is unconnected to that reality," he exulted. "Keep wanting that connection with all your pulsing energy."
Then there's Meister Eckhart, circa 1300, a German theologian quoted by Pope John Paul II and the Dalai Lama, physicists and church rectors, Jews and Muslims alike. "In separation we find neither one nor reality, nor God nor rest nor bliss nor satisfaction," he perceived.
"I think that the mystics were probably onto something," says Dean Radin, senior scientist and researcher at the Institute of Noetic Sciences. Radin studies a consciousness force researchers call "psi," a mysterious, universal connecting presence.
In layman's terms, psi appears in "lots of everyday synchronicities." Radin calls it "mental interconnectivity with the rest of the universe that people sometimes pay attention to, but most of the time they don't."
Maybe they don't want to. Not everybody likes a bunch of bridges open to the unknown, like "the enemy."
But connectivity is there anyhow. Whatever comes between two beings also connects them.
Take hatred - the kind of corrosion currently clogging our political pipes. It may seem a needed separation, a handy war one side can win, but actually it just turns the ductwork between people into rust and petrifaction.
Might as well love the enemy, as Jesus and the Buddha both said to. Thus the Dalai Lama soberly and merrily refers to China as "My friend the enemy."
Radin puts it in planetary terms. "At the everyday level of awareness, Jupiter and I are obviously very separate. ... But at another level we're not." He adds, "It's this other level that requires a different way of perceiving the world."
That "different way of perceiving" is profoundly called for in our time.
This brings us back to those bishops.
"The word for bishop, ‘pontifex,' means ‘bridge-builder'," said Katharine Jefferts Schori in July, in a discussion in Roanoke about that word.
As Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, she'd noticed quite a few divisions in our world: within the church, between denominations, between faiths and political enemies, man and nature, wealthy and poor.
"The divisions in this nation are abundant and deeply destructive," she regretted.
That's why she'd met with leaders of many at-odds denominations and political groups like Focus on the Family - at the Faith and Politics Institute's "Better Angels Project."
"We always begin these things with prayer," she said. Sometimes that initial prayer remained the only core of agreement all day. But "it's a start."
I thanked Jefferts Schori for being an oceanographer as well as religious leader - a bridge deeply needed in our time. Her training in that field, she said, had helped her understand reality.
"Oceanographers think in systems. You can't just consider one separate part - the biology or geology."
Instead, chemistry, climate, inland human activity and other elements all influence marine ecology. It's all one world, not a collection of fragments.
As Radin says, "At the subatomic realm ... there are no particles - only relationships."
Or as Rumi perceived: "All religions, all this singing, one song."
Liza Field's column runs every other Saturday in Extra.
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