If I could be granted the fulfillment of one wish it would be that all humans would know their oneness in Christ, and through this, their oneness with everything that exists.
Quite possibly other things spring to mind for you. Perhaps you would wish for world peace, the elimination of poverty, or the end of violence, injustice, or discrimination. But nothing is a more powerful source of change in these matters than the grace of knowing that, in the words of James Finley, although you are not me, you are not fundamentally other than me; although you are not a tree, you are not fundamentally other than a tree; and although you are not God, you are not fundamentally other than God.
Knowing the interconnectedness of everything in existence does not mean that trees, penguins, stars, humans, and amoeba are the same as each other. Oneness does not involve the absence of differentiation. It simply involves a knowing of the deep, foundational shared being that is ours with everyone and everything. How could be otherwise since, as Richard Rohr notes, God is not a being but Being itself.
The aboriginal peoples of the world live this wisdom. In North America this oneness with everything in existence is at the core of the Lakota concept of Mitakuye Oyasin – in English, “all my relations.” Lakota often speak this phrase in communal gatherings. What they are expressing is their gratitude for all those who form part of their family, this not just their blood relatives but also the many other “nations” of which they are a part.
Sometimes this understanding is turned into a prayer that gives the underlying knowing fuller expression:
To the Creator, for the ultimate gift of life, I thank you.
To the mineral nation that has built and maintained my bones and all foundations of life experience, I thank you.
To the plant nation that sustains my organs and body and gives me healing herbs for sickness, I thank you.
To the animal nation that feeds me from your own flesh and offers your loyal companionship in this walk of life, I thank you.
To the human nation that shares my path as a soul upon the sacred wheel of Earthly life, I thank you.
To the Spirit nation that guides me invisibly through the ups and downs of life and carries the torch of light through the Ages, I thank you.
To the Four Winds of Change and Growth, I thank you.
You are all my relations, my relatives, without whom I would not live. We are in the circle of life together, co-existing, co-dependent, co-creating our destiny. One is not more important than the other. Each evolves from the other and yet each is dependent upon the others. All of us are a part of the Great Mystery.
Thank you for this Life.[i]
Far from an esoteric concept limited to one indigenous group in North America, this lies at the heart of the lived wisdom of the aboriginal peoples of the world. But, rather than me telling you more about this, give yourself the gift of 6 minutes and to listen to and watch Bob Randall, an elder of Yankunytjatjara people of Uluru (Ayer’s Rock) in central Australia, explain what this knowing means to him and his people – www.youtube.com/watch?v=w0sWIVR1hXw&feature=youtu.be.
If this doesn’t sound familiar to Christian ears, it should. Perhaps we have become too used to talk of oneness in Sufism, Buddhism and Hinduism and have forgotten how central it is to Christian mystical teaching.
Christians understand our fundamental oneness through the lens of being “in Christ.” Scriptures affirm that Christ is the first-born of all creation and that everything that exists was created in and through him. Everything that exists is, therefore, held in existence by Christ (Colossians 1: 15 – 17). This means we and everything else would cease to exist if we were not held in Christ.
Christ is so much more than merely a tribal place of belonging for those who identify as Christians. Christ is the basis of the oneness of all of creation for we are all members of one body, the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12: 12 – 30). That “we” includes not just humans but everything in existence. The world is the body of Christ, not just the church.
But what difference does this make for things like world peace, the elimination of poverty, or the end of violence, injustice, or discrimination? It makes all the difference in the world.
Speaking of Ubuntu (the southern African way of describing this knowing of oneness), Desmond Tutu says, “A person with ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, for he or she has a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed.”[ii] It was a deep, personal knowing of this oneness that, after 27 years of imprisonment for his opposition to apartheid, allowed Nelson Mandela to recognize that as long as anyone remains in chains, everyone remains in chains.[iii] It was also the source of the compassion that led him to offer a special invitation to his long-term jailor at his inauguration as President of South Africa.
Knowing oneness leads to loving my neighbour as myself (Mark 12:31).[iv] But notice that this familiar verse does not tell us to love our neighbour as we love ourselves. Much more powerfully, it tells us to love our neighbour as ourselves. This can only happen when we first see our neighbour as our self – this arising only out of the mystical knowing of oneness.
Once we see others this way we recognize the mystical truth that although I am not you, I am not fundamentally other than you. From this larger perspective of seeing through the eyes of Christ we recognize differences but not separateness. In Christ, there is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female for we are all one (Galatians 3:28). And, of course, once we see the earth as part of our oneness in and body of Christ, loving and caring for it also flows naturally.
Let me make this even more practical by sharing a recent comment from one of the program participants in Cascadia Living Wisdom School. We were talking about community, and how recognizing our deep interconnectedness with all people begins to change how we perceive community and relate to people we do not naturally like. This led this person to say that although it was still hard to acknowledge, he was coming to see that oneness means that although he was not Donald Trump, neither was he fundamentally other than Donald Trump.
This is the movement from an I-It relationship based on differentiation and separateness to an I-Thou relationship of oneness. It is a shift that does not come from beliefs but from knowing. This is why my present life priority is helping people experience the awakening of their hearts and transformation of consciousness that allows them to see through the eyes of Christ and know the oneness of everything that exists. This is the way to access and live wisdom. It is the route to full participation in the life of Christ and the Kingdom of God.
[ii] From an unpublished speech, quoted by Michael Jesse Battle in Reconciliation: The Ubuntu Theology of Desmond Tutu (Cleveland, OH: The Pilgrim Press, 2009), 182.
[iii] Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom (Boston: Little, Brown, 1994), 544.