From my heart to yours
These last two weeks there have been celebrations and services on both sides of the Atlantic to remember the sinking of the Titanic. On the night of 14 April 1912, during her maiden voyage, the Titanic struck an iceberg, off the coast of Nova Scotia and sank two hours and forty minutes later, early on 15 April 1912. At the time of her launching in 1912, she was the largest passenger steamship in the world. The sinking resulted in the deaths of 1,517 people, ranking it as one of the worst peacetime maritime disasters in history and by far the most infamous.
There have been hundreds of ships lost at sea; yet, the Titanic seems shrouded in mystery; it seems to have a magnetic power, which draws us under its spell. It has certainly caught the attention of Hollywood and the block buster movie Titanic which incidentally has now been re – released in 3 D.
There are many reasons for this, one of which was the claim that it was ‘unsinkable,’ which I understand was made because of its design features. There was an air of invincibility about this magnificent vessel, yet no one could have predicted its vulnerability. Perhaps the most powerful reason for the attention the Titanic disaster receives is the human aspect, the images of couples and families being separated with some in the life boats, while others are in the cold icy water and other will remain on board and go down with the ship. Then there is the image of the orchestra still playing as the boat sinks below the water, these and other images may come to mind when we think of the Titanic. The response of those who had a family member die in the disaster will be very different to us who look from a distance and make our comments and judgments from a detached heart and mind.
It is the same for any human disaster; those who are affected most deeply are the ones who have an intimate belonging with those injured or killed. This is how life is, we each belong to one other in various ways, and we could well say, we are interconnected with one another. I like to describe it as: ‘webs of belonging.’
Just as the Titanic once thought invincible became vulnerable, so too our Western Society is experiencing a new uncertainty, fragility has entered our collective psyche. A new fragmentation is appearing and correspondingly a new desire for connection. Some are searching for that connection and belonging on the www (World Wide Web) within the world of virtual reality. It is not by chance it’s called the World Wide Web; it is definitely a web of connections, perhaps of belonging, howbeit in a different way.
Belonging is a powerful word. Maybe one of the most powerful words there is.
Belonging taps into something very deep within us – the yearning to be part of something larger than ourselves, to be accepted and loved by others with our gifts and limitations. Within us there is a gap; on one side is isolation while on the other intimacy. We each have a desire to belong; it is this desire which seeks to bridge the gap within.
We may have all that the world seeks to offer in terms of prestige, possessions and achievement, yet without a true sense of belonging, our lives can feel empty and pointless. Jean Vanier founder of the Le Arche community for people with a physical disability says: ‘belonging does for human beings what soil does for plants: it nurtures us, and enables us to grow and to blossom. ‘
Like a tree that sends its roots deep into the soil, the clay of our earth, each of us needs to be rooted and grounded in the soil of belonging. This need to belong has its seeds in the mystery of our conception, within our mother’s womb. Within the darkness, hidden from view, our desire to belong is fashioned in all its different guises and our distinctive soul shape is formed.
Mention the word soul and all kinds of thoughts and images come into our awareness. The word soul eludes our feeble attempts at definition. It is beyond description for we are touching the essential life – essence of a person’s spirit and being. It is the core of our humanity. I readily accept the word soul means different things to different people, and is the invisible dimension of our human experience. If you would like a little more information, look no further than Albert Schweitzer in – Reverence for Life where he writes: ‘What does the word “soul” mean?…. No one can give a definition of the soul. But we know what it feels like. The soul is the sense of something higher than ourselves, something that stirs in us thoughts, hopes and aspirations which go out to the world of goodness, truth, and beauty. The soul is a burning desire to breathe in this world of light and never to lose it – remain children of light.’
For me I prefer this poetic description from David Whyte in Crossing the Unknown Sea – Work as a Pilgrimage of Identity:
Nobody knows what the soul is:
It comes and goes
like the wind over the water
Each soul is a different shape. No one can feel your life, as you feel your life. Each person’s life is a unique narrative, and we are its own sole story teller. Our experience is inaccessible to another traveller on the journey. Yet, in the mystery of belonging we connect with another and we are soul – enriched. We could well say that it is our soul that longs to belong; it is also our soul that makes all belonging possible. On our journey through life if we desire to know more about ourselves, our being – ness, then it is in our connections with others that we discover more about who we are. Humanity can be compared to a tapestry hanging in a great Cathedral, with its amazing array of colours depicting wonderful images and patterns. We individually are a single thread, on its own each thread is pretty insignificant, yet woven together with other threads, what a transformation takes place. A work of beauty and wonder is created with each thread woven together in its place. So too in the tapestry of life, we are each interconnected and belong together, yet often we are not aware that we do belong. Yet we do.
Think of your own life, your unique belongings; with family, friends, groups you may belong to, your church community, maybe the community around were you live. Each one of these is a web of belonging of which you are a significant and integral part. Religion and faith have also played a significant part in creating webs of belonging. Gerald May describes it this way: ‘Religion responds to a wide variety of human needs: needs for belonging, for security, for moral responsibility, and for belonging to community, as well as more clearly spiritual needs for experiencing the mystery and meaning of being.’ Yet, often we don’t always experience religion and faith in this way; rather it becomes a legalistic system of do and don’ts instead of love, grace, compassion and acceptance.
Within the mystery of our faith, is one who created webs of belonging among those he lived and moved among, that one is Jesus. Thomas Moore (Ex – priest, Writer & Psychotherapist)
offer us this description of Jesus and his lifestyle: ‘Jesus’ teachings suggest what many scholars call a “reversal” of values. To those people who think that being spiritual means to avoid life, deny yourself and others pleasures, judge someone else’s lifestyle, recommend deprivation, and define good as austerity, Jesus offers a profound reversal. No, he says clearly, don’t hide from life in a cult of false virtue. Embrace life and enjoy it. Deep in that pleasure you will find the comfort and community that the father wishes for you.’
It is important to mention that belonging never protects us from life’s pain and the losses,
along with the uncertainties that still come unexpectedly making their presence felt. In our belonging we discover strength and courage to face life and not hide. Our belonging is with one another and within the mystery of the Great Belonging, which embraces everything and everyone. We are within the divine tapestry held within the mystery of the divine embrace; we call God, which is love, in love and with love. I leave you with this poem from Denise Levertov:
Something is very gently,
pulling at me-a thread
or net of threads
finer than cobweb and as
elastic. I haven’t tried
the strength of it. No barbed hook
pierced and tore me. Was it
not long ago this thread
began to draw me? Or
way back? Was I
born with its knot about my
neck, a bridle? Not fear
but a stirring
of wonder makes me
catch my breath when I feel
the tug of it when I thought
it had loosened itself and gone.
Meanwhile Peace within the Dignity of Difference