EUCHARISTIC ECOLOGY AND ECOLOGICAL SPIRITUALITY
By Beatrice Bruteau
Spiritual life, especially as contemplative life, follows a kind of cycle, or spiral, in which we first leave "the world," which is experienced as interfering with our contemplation. We "go apart for a while," even far apart from the world, from everything formed and finite, everything that can be spoken or conceived. We follow the via negativa, the way of not-using, not-speaking, not-knowing. We aspire to, and may eventually enjoy, the apophatic experience.
But the apophatic experience itself disabuses us of the notion that we have any such thing as "our contemplation," or even any separate substantiality. In the Night of the Absolute, everything is empty. Having reached what we yearned to possess, we find that all distinctions have vanished, including the selves that had thought they could possess anything or desire to possess anything. Thus, for us there is nothing left to defend, nothing left to augment, nothing to prefer to something else, nothing to which to accord privilege.
At this point the distinction is lost between the Absolute itself and the world which we had "left" in order to go to the Absolute by not speaking, by not thinking of any form, by not identifying ourselves with our particular egoic point of view. We discover the paradox that the very distinction of the Absolute from the world, carried to the limit, destroys the distinction of the Absolute from the world. The contemplative, having attained union with the Absolute, discovers that the Absolute is engaged in creating the world; and so, the contemplative too, as united with the Creator, must engage in self-emptying into the world. Once coincided with, the Transcendent--initially set over against the relative, the embodied--reveals itself as self-expressive as the relative, the embodied, the world.
In religious language, this turn in the contemplative's development may be called "the resurrection of the body." Having lost "the body," the finite and the relative, for the sake of the Infinite and the Absolute, we find ourselves again in the finite and the relative, as glorified by conscious recognition of their being the Body of the Divine.
We have come back to where we started, but as T. S. Eliot said, we now know the place for the first time. The mountains are again mountains, but now we know what mountains are. Like everything else, they are Buddha-Nature. The story is told of the monastic disciple who asked the Teacher about enlightenment. The Teacher inquired, "Have you had your dinner? .... Yes," replied the disciple. 'Then wash your dish." The disciple was instantly enlightened. Why? Because the disciple already knew what the question was, to which this apparently trivial conversation was the answer. The question is (always is): "Show us the Father (Source, Origin, Ultimate Cause or Ground), and we will be satisfied." And the Teacher, as bidden, showed. The Teacher did not talk about, or explain, but invited the disciple to enter a place in which the disciple would answer the question from the only point of view from which it can be answered. As the Fourth Gospel reveals (John 14:9-10), the Absolute is not available to us in terms of the third grammatical person, nor even of the second, but only in terms of the first.
That One, which is initially sought as the Cause, the Protector, and the Final Goal, is found in an inexpressible union with the one who sought. Consequently, the seeking one is revealed as transformed: not merely finite, relative, erring, wounded, and helpless. As united with the Sought, the Seeker now participates in the Infinite, the Absolute, the true, the whole, and the omnipotent; and, as united, they freely and spontaneously express themselves as the relative world. Thus the separation between what we had called "relative" and "absolute" is healed. God and the world are reconciled.
There would have been no need to say "Absolute" if we had not first said "relative." But by the time we discover ourselves, we have already said "relative," so we must persevere and say "Absolute." That is, because we find ourselves in sin and sorrow, we must go the apophatic way to the other pole, to the Transcendent. It is only when we have found our root there, that we can realize that it is that very Reality Itself which is present in, even as, all this.
This return to the world, to the relative, to the finite, is what I am calling the resurrection of the body in its trans figured state. Ascending to the Absolute and descending from the Absolute are both the same as remaining in the Absolute (cf. John 3:13).
The Eucharistic Planet
The resurrection of the body means that the Real Presence of the Absolute is realized in the world in all its ordinariness. The world of mountains and rivers, of bread and wine, of friends and enemies, is all held and displayed in the universal monstrance, the Showing, the phenomenalization of the Absolute. This is, as far as I can see, what the Mysteries, in their various mythic forms and traditions, are trying to tell us.
Can we recognize the presence of the Absolute in the ordinariness of the world? Do we know what is going on when bread is broken for supper? I want to see all our interconnectedness as .expressions of the agape, the karuna, the hesed, the jen--of the Absolute. I want to perceive Earth as a Eucharistic Planet, a Good Gift planet, which is structured as mutual feeding, as intimate self-sharing. It is a great Process, a circulation of living energies, in which the Real Presence of the Absolute is descerned. Never holding still, continually passing away from moment to moment, it is the shining face of the Eternal. It is living as an integral Body, as the Glory Body of the Real.
In this Risen Body, or Glory Body, or Manifestation of the Real, compassion overflows as what Chogyam Trungpa calls "environmental generosity." Since the Absolute, radiating itself in the myriad things, has no need to prefer one to another, compassion is revealed as "the ultimate attitude of wealth."2 Abundant life is available for all because there is no desire to hoard. The various aspects of the universe can give themselves freely to one another because they have no need to preserve themselves, to save themselves for themselves. This is eucharistic ecology, and it is the ideal of all spiritual traditions. The Life of the Whole continues because all parties give themselves to it by giving themselves to each other. The dynamic interconnections in turn sustain all participants.
This view of the world, which I am here calling the Eucharistic Planet, a view of the world as the Real Presence of the Divine, of the Absolute, a view of the world as a single living Body, in which the various members freely give themselves as food to one an-other--this view of reality has been around a long time. It has surfaced in almost every culture in one form or another. A number of ancient traditions described the unity of the world as the living body of a single divine person. Purusha in the Vedic tradition, Osiris in the Egyptian, the 18,000-year-old god of Chinese myth whose head became the sun and moon, his blood the rivers and seas, his hair the plants, his limbs the mountains, his voice the thunder, his sweat the rain, his breath the wind--and there are similar accounts in the other ancient tales--all these deities gave their flesh to be the life of the world. The Cosmic Theandric Person is a well-nigh universal image of the organic unity in which we all share.
A sense of the Eucharistic Planet, of the Real Presence of the Divine in the world, is something we need now for the protection of the planet. It may be that biblical religion has encouraged Western civilization to take unfair advantage of the natural environment under the belief that it was given to humanity by God for purposes of human exploitation and has no rights of its own. It may be that we need to tell ourselves a new story about how we fit into the general scene and what it's all about. I don't dispute that. But I would like to emphasize that on the basis of the Gospel we can say something quite constructive and very exciting that will give us the new story and a vision of the wholeness of the planet.
The core of the story, as I see it, is the communitarian life taught by and instituted by Jesus. It is based on a vision of being that differs from the one we usually assume. Instead of taking as the norm of Reality those things that are outside one another, he takes as standard and paradigm those who are in one another. His prayer, his vision, is "that they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us . . . that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and thou in me, that they may become perfectly one" (John 17:21-22). This is the heart of what Jesus is about, I believe. And I don't think that we should regard it as something on an always receding horizon, a merely guiding ideal, something unreal to be striven for but never actually achieved. On the contrary, I think he meant that this is how Reality is fundamentally constructed: this is how it is, and we are to wake up and know it, realize it.
This basic insight, vision, revelation, was developed in the church in terms of two great dogmas, which, however, haven't perhaps been sufficiently appreciated as the structural models that they are. The two great dogmas, from which probably everything can be derived, are the Trinity and the Incarnation. And they are encapsulated in the single sacrament of Holy Communion, the Incarnation of the Trinity. I mean, of course, the mutually feeding, mutually indwelling, community, in which all members give themselves to one another as food, for the sake of life, abundant life.
It only remains to be said explicitly that this community is not limited to human beings but includes all life and the entire cosmos, and we have a religious view that not only enables but demands an ecological morality with regard to both the human community and the total cosmic community. The whole universe is structured and organized in such a way that all members depend on one another; they are all, in fact, dynamic processes constituted precisely by their relations to one another. It is exactly the Trinity that the universe images, which it, in fact, incarnates, embodies, phenomenalizes, shows forth, reveals, glorifies. The universe puts into flesh, into matter, the Trinitarian perichoretic Life--with its differentiation by relation, its self-sharing, its mutual indwelling--by which the nature of God is expressed.
If the Godhead is correctly called Love, then both the internal dynamism of the perichoresis and the external dynamism of the Incarnation are vindications of it. As Thomas Merton's philosopher-friend, Daniel Clark Walsh, told the Trappist monks of Gethsemani, in metaphysics "choice of starting point is all important .... The thing is to begin with St. John: God is Love." That means that God has to be personal and communitarian (Trinity). It also means that God is going to be externally creative and self-expressive, self-involving (Incarnation). There is an expansiveness, a generosity, in the very nature of Being that reveals itself as the Trinity and as the Trinity's incarnation, the cosmos.
The cosmos, too, is communitarian, a single body of mutually feeding processes-- much more like beings that are in one another than like beings that are outside one another. It embodies, in its various finite organizations and processes and its ever more complex growth, the radiant expansive nature of that which it inevitably expresses. It is a Symbiotic Cosmos, and it is the artistic self-expression of the Trinity.
Hee-jin Kim, in his book Dogen Kigen, Mystical Realist, speaking of the Hua-yen school of Buddhist philosophy, says that
the entire universe consists of creative processes in which the multiplicity of things and events interact with and interpenetrate one another without obstruction. Particularities are not obliterated or deficient in any way, yet are unhindered in the perfect harmony of the total.
I think that is the right idea, the idea of the universe as the self-expression, or incarnation, or artwork, of the Trinity. Even among us, the work of the artist carries the reality of the artist in some way. Even when the work is something made outside the artist (as distinguished from, say, singing and dancing), if it is really a work of art, there is no way that the artist can not be present in that work. This reinforces the claim that the model for the universe is a community of beings in one another, rather than a collection of beings outside one another, and that it is not inappropriate to regard the cosmos as an "incarnation" of the Trinity.
The cosmos has all the marks of the Trinity: it is a unity; it is internally differentiated but interpenetrating; and it is dynamic, giving, expanding, radiant. And, as a work of art, the cosmos has another very important character: it does not exist for the sake of something else, something beyond itself; it is not useful, it is not instrumental; it is an end in itself, self-justifying, valuable in its own right and in its very process. This, I think, is foundational for the ecological virtue that is the moral dimension of the Eucharistic Ecology I am proposing. As the Artwork of God, the cosmos has value in itself, and that entitles it to certain rights.
"You Are All Brethren"
Today we have the Gaia Hypothesis, put forward by James Love-lock and Lynn Margolis, which proposes that "the entire range of living matter on Earth, from whales to viruses, and from oaks to algae, could be regarded as constituting a single living entity, capable of manipulating the Earth's atmosphere to suit its overall needs and endowed with faculties and powers far beyond those of its constituent parts." Elisabet Sahtouris has picked up this idea and developed it with the theme that "the Earth is a live planet rather than a planet with life upon it."7 She calls us to understand ourselves as "living beings within a larger living being, in the same sense that our cells are part of each of us."
If we can do that, the resulting sense of unity, of the planet, of the Whole, will naturally give rise to universal compassion. None of us really hates our own flesh, as St. Paul says (Eph. 5:29); and when we begin to find that the tentacles of our flesh are profoundly intertwined with those of other beings--begin to consecrate a larger domain when we say "This is my body"--then feeling-together, compassion, will naturally grow. "Love your neighbor as your self" takes on a new and more realistic meaning as the boundaries of our self become more and more indefinite and entangled with those of all other beings. This is what can come from enlightenment in the apophatic moment, says Keiji Nishitani:
. . . the standpoint from which one sees oneself in others and loves one's neighbor as oneself means that the self is at the home-ground of every other in the "nothingness" of the self, and that every other is at the home-ground of the self in that same nothingness. Only when these two are one--in a relationship of circuminsessional interpenetration-does this standpoint come about.
I have added the italics to circuminsessional interpenetration to call attention to the Trinitarian imagery. It is a great phrase and I take it to mean (at least approximately) the same reality I have been pointing to here with "perichoresis," and elsewhere with "subject-subject coinherence," and the "I-I relation."
Meanwhile, Nishitani goes on to say that "if this is what loving one's fellow man as oneself is, it follows that the field where that love obtains . . . must be a field of Love toward all living beings, and even toward all things." "Our" life is obviously a matter of indefinitely expanded sharings through the Earth community. Everyone's life is this way, all of us living by one another. "Greater love has no one than this: that one lay down one's life for one's friends" (John 15:13). Is this not the fundamental principle of the Eucharistic Planet? And it has now become the fundamental principle of what we may call "ecological awareness," that is, awareness of the basic interrelatedness of all beings.
Ecology began as a scale of understanding biological relationships: besides the way cells and organs interrelate in the organism, and besides the way individuals interrelate in the species, there is the way species interrelate in a locality. Ecology has as its hallmark the principle that no one species is the species from whose viewpoint the whole is to be understood and appreciated. An ecological system is not, for instance, "cattle and their environment." An ecological system has no privileged members, no single master. All members interact with all others: the soil and water, the weather and seasons, the bacteria, the various plants and animals, and all their ever-changing activities, these constitute the ecological system of a locality.
But now we can see into the matter more deeply. Beyond being the regional scale of biological interrelationships, ecology can refer to the moral "standing" of natural elements. Some years ago an attempt was made to defend a grove of redwood trees in California against a developer who proposed to make a parking lot on the land where they were living. The case was brought to court but was rejected by the judge on the grounds that the trees did not have "legal standing," meaning that they did not have any rights that could, be infringed by another party. A deeper appreciation of our ecological situation would recognize the moral, if not the legal, standing of all parties to any ecological system, as well as the integrity of the system itself. Living beings and even inanimate aspects of the planet would be conceived as having some kind of "rights" to their own existence and to protection in their own terms (as distinguished from protection derived from their utility for human beings). The definition of such rights--obviously a very difficult problem--and the acknowledgement of the obligation to respect them would constitute the basis of ecological morality.
And then we can do another thing with a deepened sense of ecology. We can use it as a metaphor for human relations and for the development of a planetary spirituality. The central theme in both these expanded meanings would be the abandonment of the privileged status of any particular party to the ecological system. Since no member of the system is to be seen as the system's master, the motto of such a deepened sense of ecology could well be "All of you are brethren" (Matt 23:8). The basic moral virtue would be respect-the minimal degree of self-giving love--accorded to every member.
The deeper sense of biological ecology holds that our obligation to protect the environment is not based on our need or desire to preserve things in good working order only for ourselves and our descendants--so that our grandchildren will inherit unpolluted air, water, and land, and will still be able to enjoy seeing a variety of animals and plants. No, our obligation to protect the environment is based on the rights of the creatures who compose the ecosystem to their own lives, and on the value of cooperating with the natural movement of the planet in terms of the good of the whole. Indeed, we shouldn't even speak of "the environment," because that implies a privileged viewpoint, the viewpoint of the species whose "environment" it is deemed to be; whereas we propose a commitment to an ecological morality which abjures such privilege. Instead of saying that we human beings are the only really valuable or meaningful beings on the planet, and that everything else exists as our support system, put here by a thoughtful Deity for our convenience and pleasure, we seek a view in which all creatures compose the whole system together, in which all are valuable and significant. In such a view the living ecosystem is dependent on, and must be respectful of, all of them. "You are brethren, all of you."
An immediate conclusion from this proposed view is that when we confront the question, "Am I my brother's [my sister's] keeper?", the answer has to be Yes--perhaps not an absolutely unequivocal Yes, since part of "keeping" is precisely leaving others free-- but definitely Yes. We must be committed to keeping--preserving, protecting, benefitting-- the whole planet, with intelligent love, humble reformability (for we don't know everything yet about how the living planet works), and the realization that whatever we do is done from inside the system and that the rest of the system is also acting to keep us and to keep the planet.
But, we may ask, if I am to keep my brother--love my neighbor--who is my brother? Willis Harman tells the story of talking with a Native American leader about how white people have difficulty understanding the Indian way of looking at the world. The Indian replied: "It's easy. You only have to remember two things. One is, everything in the universe is alive. The other is, we're all relatives!" This Native American leader had an illustrious ancestor-relative in the person of Chief Seattle, whose famous answer to the U.S. President's offer to buy tribal lands contains the words:
We are part of the earth and it is part of us. The perfumed flowers are our sisters. The bear, the deer, the great eagle, these are our brothers. The rocky crests, the juices in the meadow, the body heat of the pony, and man, all belong to the same family . . . . . . . . . . If we sell you our land, you must remember that it is sacred . . . . . . . . . . . . . The rivers are our brothers .... So you must give to the rivers the kindness you would give any brother .... Will you teach your children what we have taught our children? That the earth is our mother? What befalls the earth befalls all the sons of the earth.
This we know: the earth does not belong to man, man belongs to the earth. All things are connected like the blood that unites us all. Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.
Shall we not admit that this is a good answer to the question, "Who is my mother and my brothers?" Are not the rivers and the meadows, the flowers and the ponies, among those "who do the will of our Father in heaven," and therefore are entitled to be considered our "brother and sister and mother"? (Matt. 12:48-50).
St. Francis of Assisi seems to have had this vision, expressed in his "Canticle to the Sun." Some people think that he was proposing an alternative Christian view of nature and the position of humanity within it. He was moving, I would say, to replace the "domination paradigm" with the "communion paradigm," seeing a larger interpretation of the metaphor of the Christ-Vine than his tradition had usually offered. He saw the Eucharistic Planet. He was able to see it because he had first embraced humility and spiritual poverty--emptiness, the apophatic way to the realization of the Absolute. Coming out from that point of view again into creation, into the resurrection of the body, he was able to see the Real Presence of the Divine in everything and to know that "whatever you do to the least of these my brethren, you do to me" (Matt. 25:40). "Whatever you do to the web, you do to yourself."
I said earlier that the second thing we could do with a deepened sense of ecology is to use it as a metaphor for certain human concerns. I propose now to apply it to the possibility of a planetary spirituality.
We can see ecology as spirituality and again we can see spirituality as ecological. Taking the first way first, we can see, for instance, that concern for the ecology, for the welfare of the planet, may be functioning at the present time as an avenue for development of a global spirituality. Earth Day is celebrated all over the world, and environmentalists everywhere preach much the same doctrines: rescue from pollution, recycling, thinking as a bioregion, respect for the dignity and beauty of the Earth, identifying with the planet as a whole, setting aside human in-group greediness to reach out to the needy and to other species. There are common spiritual values, common spiritual insights in all these movements. They are bound to grow stronger and more explicit, because the problems that provoked them are real everywhere and are also growing.
Is this a sign of the coming of something like a generic spirituality? By generic I mean without a brand name--the same real thing but without a label identifying it as coming from a particular source. Or perhaps we should say without a label limiting it to a particular source, because people who are speaking and writing on these issues often quite naturally and comfortably quote from several traditions and do name them: Christian, Buddhist, Native American, and so on. And then they mingle these words of wisdom with those from contemporary science and from poets and other artists. But what gives the message its power to move is not the citation of its tradition of origin but its perceived truth for our times. We recognize our own voices in all these texts. They do/not sound nearly as alien as we had thought they would. Sometimes we think that they are saying the same thing in different ways.
Economic development and its ultimately global interdependence have led to the ecological disasters we are now facing on a planetary scale. Divisions into tribes with their own unique and exclusive traditions do not help us much with these new worldwide problems. When we get off the planet, as the astronauts and cosmonauts did, we can see that there are no boundaries marking out the ranges of nations, or races, or religions. Different approaches to spirituality have developed among the diverse peoples of the Earth in the same way that variants and distinct species have developed biologically: by separation. Each tribal unit had its own representation of deity and its own customs. But when these separations are overcome, then sharing takes over more and more--even while conflicts are still going on--and hybrids begin to appear.
Today, the same information--about science, about history, about anthropology--is, to a great extent, available to everyone on Earth. We all know a good deal about one another, and every day we are coming to know more. It is increasingly an information world. It is going to be harder and harder to preserve the doctrinal and ritual purity of particular spiritualities in a world that is becoming so intimately interconnected.
Hybridizing is not unknown in the history of the traditions we already have. The Jews were influenced by their neighbors, and the materials we have in the Bible represent gatherings from Egypt, Babylonia, and Persia, as well as Hebrew experiences. Christianity grew out of Judaism but was heavily influenced by Greek philosophy, Roman polity, and maybe even Hindu spirituality. The Western church adopted first Platonic and, later, quite different Aristotelian philosophical concepts, and each time declared them to be orthodox teaching. Look at what happened to Buddhism in China, when it intermarried with Taoism, and later in Japan where it was adapted to fit the indigenous culture. Islam acknowledges that it has built its house on Jewish and Christian foundations. And Hinduism simply absorbs every spiritual nutrient set before it and assimilates it into its own identity.
Each of these broad streams of tradition is itself faceted into many sects and schools of thought. Some of these internal dissensions are sources of intense antagonism. Adherents may have their fiercest loyalty to their most local identity. Nevertheless, if pressed, both Shiite and Sunni will proclaim, "We are Moslems." Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant will declare, "We are Christians."
The question is, what shall we mean when we say "we"? What is the scope of the context? Where do we position the horizon of our domain? In particular, if--let us say--Catholics can draw from Benedictine, Franciscan, Dominican, and Carmelite sources without feeling that they have gone outside the borders of their appropriate "we," why can not all of us expand those borders? Why can we not, as human beings, draw from all the traditions on Earth? The question is: How big is our "we"?
The old borders are being perforated by global life activities. All our walls are going to suffer the fate of the Berlin Wall. Nations, languages, lifestyles, religions are sharing their genes and their life energies. Provoked by transnational economics and planetary ecology, ecumenism is growing apace. Some people call these three "Eco" and see them as the dimensions of our gateway into the future.
Now, I think that our future can be talked about in terms of the large themes of the Trinity, The Incarnation, and the Incarnation of the Trinity, the Holy Community: unity, diversity, and dynamism. Besides the basic spiritual sense that I have called generic spirituality, there is ecological spirituality in which the diversity is celebrated in harmony with the unity represented by generic spirituality. Variety is also important to life: from it come the new creations of evolution. If we sink into uniformity, we will not grow.
At the same time, we must go beyond ethnocultural chauvinism. We are still tempted in this direction, although sometimes in a covert way. While we speak politely to one another in the council halls of ecumenical discourse, when we are at home, in the privacy of our own received teachings and practices, each of us securely knows that, although other traditions may now and then say something quite good, they are acceptable only after being fitted into our own tradition, which is the one really true God-revealed spirituality. The others are, perhaps, preparations for the revelation that was given finally in the form of our tradition. Or perhaps they are later, fallen-away, versions of the original truth. Or, the others are variations on the general theme that is best enunciated in our spiritual philosophy. If any universalizing is to be done, we have the best umbrella, or the divine mandate, for doing it.
Of course, we have to use some language, and when we address an audience familiar with a particular traditional language we may be justified in making use of it, as I am doing here in building a whole argument around the doctrines of the Trinity, the Incarnation, and the Holy Communion and citing Gospel texts. But what we say by means of this language should be, in the new ecological ecumenism, that the sacred concepts, doctrines, images, practices of this tradition themselves point beyond any exclusivist claim for themselves. Every "world-class" spiritual tradition has a way of talking about universal unity. But if it is a truly self-transcending spiritual tradition, one that is rooted in the apophatic experience, then it will not insist that its way--good way though it is--is the only acceptable way.
Taking a privileged viewpoint--choosing one traditional spirituality to be the umbrella, or the master form, for the planetary soul--is not an ecological way of proceeding. The ecological paradigm shows all parties collaborating with equal dignity and constituting jointly the "we" of the ecosystem.
Another metaphor suggests itself, a musical metaphor: polyphony. Why should any of us insist that our particular history/doctrine/practice is the major theme, the melody, to which others can be considered harmony, counterpoint, accompaniment, back-up group? Why should we not each sing our own melodic line, interweaving it with all others so that the whole composes a living, moving harmony? Why not be a jazz band and improvise, with each musicial creating--within the general, the generic, universal, planetary themes--a unique contribution? Why not all the Earth pray a polyphonic prayer?
Something like this may be the way we are naturally tending, despite the upsurge of fundamentalisms in several traditions. Planetary intercommunication is so inescapable now that themes of general concern and consensus are bound to emerge, even if they are initially overshadowed by conflicts. We may expect to grow into an ecological spirituality in the same natural--groping--way any ecosystem finds its balance among a variety of species, each in its own niche.
This will be a new thing for the planet, for the history of humanity's efforts to interpret its experience in spiritual, or ultimate, terms. And we will need stories even about how this new thing has arisen and what it means. But those stories will come. The time of revelation is not past. Revelation is what the whole history of the world is. If the time of revelation were past, God wouldn't be creative and the universe would be dead.
A new revelation is coming, and many threads from the past will be woven into it, drawn from all the old traditions. But some of the "former things" will "pass away" (Rev 21:4)--whatever is incompatible with planetary peaceful life together. The new revelation will not come from a chosen people that excludes other--unchosen--people. As Rabbi Nahum Ward says in "Judaism in the Planetary Era," all people are chosen. The most important piece of traditional lore that is passing away, he says, is the notion, "My tribe is right. Your tribe is wrong." Indeed, "We can no longer afford such polarization .... This challenge, to give up our subtle and oft unspoken sense of superiority, goes to the core of our identity as a people." But, "as we prepare to enter the twenty-first century .... our world needs people who can maintain their sense of identity without denigrating others." We can all sing our own proper melodies while listening to those of others.
And then he says a very interesting thing, something that many people are saying these days: "The model for the future is not the pyramid, but rather the circle, the community .... New forms, new ideas, new possibilities will emerge from all of us, working together."
This is the kind of metaphor that comes from the new information technologies. The pyramid model of social organization, so familiar ,to us from the corporation, the military, and some religious organizations, is like a circuit wired in series: it has a distinct top and bottom, few connections, and high vulnerability to attack or evolutionary change. The alternative is parallel wiring, which corresponds to the circle of the community, to what is often called the network, or the system. Heinz Pagels, in his last book, The Dreams of Reason, on the new sciences of complexity and their significance for the next stage of human culture, has some excellent discussion of this difference. "A network," he says, "has no 'top' or 'bottom.' Rather, it has a plurality of connections that increase the possible interactions between components of the network. There is no central executive authority that oversees the system. A network has lots of redundancy," therefore very low vulnerability to' attack or evolutionary change. It can adapt. It is ecological. It is polyphonic. It is even, in the traditional Christian language I am adopting here, Trinitarian, because it is essentially communitarian.
This is, I believe, a typical new model for community and communication. We are not to be forced into a choice between uniformity on the one hand--everybody exactly alike--and alienation on the other hand--everybody divided into different groups antagonistic to one another. We can behave like an ecological network.
Raimundo Panikkar says, in The Silence of God, "No culture, and no religion, can solve the human problem all by itself .... Hence the need for a mutual fertilization of human traditions". This mutual fertilization he now sees as including not only the various religions and spiritualities, but also the relations between humanity as religious (whether theistic or non-theistic) and humanity as secular. So even our ecumenism is expanding and evolving. We are shifting and adjusting, mutating and suffering extinctions; the human ecology is in motion, groping for adaptation.
This motion itself is a finite expression of the divine dynamism, the expansion and elaboration of Being in the Incarnation of Trinitarian Love. Can we recognize the Real Presence of the Absolute in these movements? Can we see ourselves as Eucharist? Can we know what is going on as the Bread of Life is broken in new ways, into new shapes, and distributed to all?
When we contemplate the Resurrection of the Body, our new appreciation of the Incarnation of Trinitarian Life in the whole cosmos, we need also to remember that the Resurrection takes place, not on the Sabbath, but on the First Day of the week, when the cycle begins again. It is an ongoing process.
Chogyam Trungpa, Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism (Boulder: Shamghala, 1973), p. 99.
Term coined by Raimundo Panikkar.
Daniel C. Walsh, Document 5, "Person and Community," Colloquium, Abbey of Gethsemani, November 6, 1971, p. 4.
Hee-jin Kim, Dogen Kigen, Mystical Realist (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1987), p. 139.
J. E. Lovelock, Gaia (New York: Oxford University Press, 1979), p. 9.
Elisabet Sahtouris, Gaia: The Human Journey from Chaos to Cosmos (New York: Pocket Books, 1989), p. 21.
Ibid., p. 20.
Keiji Nishitani, Religion and Nothingness (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982), p. 279.
B. Bruteau, "In the Cave of the Heart," New Blackfriars, July-August, 1984; "Trinitarian Personhood," Cistercian Studies XXII (1987): 3; "Trinitarian World," Cistercian Studies XXIV (1989): 2.
Nishitani, p. 280.
Willis W. Harman, Open Letter of April 24, 1989, In Defense of Animals, Vol. 4, no. 1, p. 3.
Alan Atkisson, interviewing Donald Conroy, "The Eco Solution," In Context No. 24, Late Winter, 1990, p. 48.
Rabbi Nahum Ward, "Judaism in the Planetary Era," In Context No. 19, Autumn, 1988, p. 49.
Heinz Pagels, The Dreams of Reason (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1988), p. 50.
Raimundo Panikkar, The Silence of God: The Answer of the Buddha (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1989), p. xix.
By Beatrice Bruteau
BEATRICE BRUTEAU, director of the Philosophy Exchange, is author of Worthy Is the
World: the Hindu Philosophy of Sri Aurobindo and Evolution to Divinity: Teilhard de
Chardin and the Hindu Tradition.
Copyright of Cross Currents is the property of
Association for Religion & Intellectual Life and its content may not be copied without
the copyright holder's express written permission except for the print or download
capabilities of the retrieval software used for access. This content is intended solely
for the use of the individual user.