What We Think We Know and Healing a Fragmented World

Looking at our increasingly fractured, fragmented and wounded world, a world where we vilify one another and our environment, I can’t help but think that the problem lies in our increasingly being out of touch with our world and with ourselves. Our more and more urbanized and technologically embedded species has lost contact with the rest of creation that gave it birth and still gives it life, unheeded though it is. Similarly, many of us no longer speak to “those people,” while many report they do not experience God in their lives. Can these phenomena be related?

Who We Think God Is

The Christian concept of God may shed some light on this question. Christians believe that God consists of three “persons” actively and wholeheartedly relating to one another. They hold nothing back, giving all they have to one another, listening carefully and responding with all their being. No defensiveness, no walls, no fear…totally at home in one another – so much so that they are one. God is a totally supportive community.

Christians further believe that the Holy Spirit, the third person of this trinity, infuses all of creation with its presence, holding it together through the relationships that the rocks, plants, animals, and water have among themselves. The presence of God surges through all of creation. As Elizabeth Barrett Browning says in “Aurora Leigh, “

“Earth’s crammed with heaven, And every common bush afire with God, But only he who sees takes off his shoes”

Letting Go of Personal Idols

How do we perceive this presence? We can’t make it happen. But we can seek to grow more open to God’s fire by becoming more open to others, both human and nonhuman. We can be open to the idea that God speaks to us through nature and spending time quietly in nature. Becoming open involves learning to listen respectfully and to see the good in others, whether human or nonhuman. It means letting go of the need to be right and the belief that only we know the truth. If we are not careful, our beliefs themselves can become idols when they lead us to close our minds to new experiences and to other perspectives. In other words, we’re more likely to perceive the fire in all things when we learn to give ourselves to others, both human and nonhuman, without reservation or defensiveness, confronting our fear and giving anyway. This posture of humility opens us to God in all things. It unifies and heals fragmented societies. It reconnects us to the rest of creation.

Yet, while humility requires us to drop our tenacious clinging to those cherished dogmas that we believe constitute the entirety of truth, we still need to hold firmly onto them “with two fingers,” as Br. David Steindl-Rast says. While our understanding of truth guides us and helps us make sense of the world we encounter, we desperately need to think, to re-examine, and to reflect on what we see and hear in order to grow. Otherwise we dry up like a vine cut off at the roots. When we stop seeking truth, we stop seeking God.

Seeking Truth

To approach truth we need to explore and discuss with others who can challenge us and help us see things in new ways. When we are open to surprise and to new horizons, we open ourselves to the Holy Spirit’s working in our individual and communal lives. This common dedication to seeking truth wherever it leads breeds community and understanding. It also helps us “see and hear” so that we, too, might take off our shoes before everyday, ordinary bushes.

I’d like to invite you to consider experiencing a bit of what I describe above by joining us in our noncredit certificate program, Contemplation and Care for Creation. In that program we work on getting in touch with God, people of varying perspectives, and nonhuman creation through the contemplation of nature and through exploring together how we might understand these contemplative experiences in the context of the Christian faith. We welcome all who humbly seek to plumb the mystery of God in the world and to share their exploring with others.

If we join together to seek truth and to mirror God’s total self-giving, we open the possibility that we might help heal the disconnects and fractiousness in our world. Whether or not you join us in late May for our program, let us all join together in the project of reconnecting to the world. Blessed are the peacemakers….

Center for Religion and Environment, The University of the South


Author: Robert "Robin" Gottfried

Director, Center for Religion and Environment at Sewanee: The University of the South, and Professor Emeritus of Economics at Sewanee. Contemplative Christian, musician, blogger for the Huffington Post on religion and environment, and hiker living on the Cumberland Plateau of Tennessee.

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