By Herb Bowie
As 2019 winds to a close, and we pause briefly to compose ourselves before finding out what 2020 has in store, I want to take a moment to offer up a prayer – not to God, but to all of us – for a more integral sense of who we are in the new year.
Of all the great lies coursing through our culture these days, the broadest, the most mistaken, and the most damaging has been the notion that some piece of our world should be elevated to higher prominence, and viewed as move valuable, even more essential, than other pieces.
This is a lie borne out of isolation. It starts with the feeling that we are cut off and separate from the world around us, even that the world has no need of us. And as this sense of isolation grows, individuals come together and build a shared sense of estrangement. And this simmering, brooding resentment ultimately breeds rebellion, an emergent sense that “no, it is not we who are of no value, it is them, the others, those who seem so content to carry on without us, oblivious to our very existence.”
And so we enter into the world of Us vs. Them, a world in which each isolated individual, and each splintered piece of our world, is constantly scrabbling for advantage, continually trying to assert our own importance, and continually trying to diminish the significance of others. Listen to me! we scream. We are the ones who are right, we the chosen! And down with everyone and everything else!
And of course our politics and our media continually reinforce this splintering, because as isolated shards we continually crave this sort of reinforcement, but also because it sells stuff, and so it helps to continually transfer money from the many who consume to the few who own the means of production.
And the continual back and forth of who is right and who is wrong – who is strong and who is weak, who is important and who is to be dismissed – convinces all of us that our greatest challenge is to pick the right side and then battle against the other with all our might.
But the great lie being told today is not that one or the other side is right or wrong. No, the great lie is that some of us are more important than others, that the pieces are greater than the whole, even that the whole does not exist, that we are only fragmented pieces, and that this is all we will ever be, or were ever intended to be.
This is not the truth. The truth is that no one individual, no one group, no one piece of our world, is complete on its own or superior to the rest. More than that, no one individual, no one piece, is smart or enlightened or informed enough to fully see how all the pieces fit together to form something larger.
And so the truth is that our greatest wisdom lies in knowing that we each contribute to a greater whole, even when no one of us can fully apprehend the full extent of that entire wholeness.
This is an integral wisdom, a faith that all the pieces of our world integrate into something greater, something worth being a part of. Old and young. Female and male. Christian and Muslim. Buddhist and atheist. Doctor, lawyer, engineer, builder, artist, teacher, student and corporate chief. Those from the East and the West, the North and the South. Those from the cities and those from the country. The strong and the weak. Those who work in the office, those who work in the field, and those who work in factories. Those who remember the past and those who envision the future. Human and non-human. Animal, vegetable and mineral. The air, the land and the sea. So many pieces forming one great whole. And each piece important to the extent that it fits in with all the others, allowing and contributing to an overall balance and a harmony.
So this is my prayer for the new year: that we all appreciate our own importance, but also the importance of other people, other groups, other species, other pieces of our shared world, not because we are all part of some great flattening, in which everyone and everything is as important or as trivial as everything else, but because we are all part of some great building, each a piece of some great growing whole that we all can partially apprehend, even if none of us might ever fully apprehend it.
If we can all begin to sense that each of us, along with all the others, integrates into some greater whole, then perhaps 2020 can be the year in which we start to get our wobbly world back onto some kind of track towards a greater future.
I pray that together we make this so.
Published 2019 Dec 17