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The last several months on the world stage have been difficult. I sense a common theme of separateness through the various hotspots around the globe: Sunnis and Shia around the Arab world are saying to each other “I am not like you.” Jews and Palestinians are saying they have nothing in common. Ukrainians are now saying to each other “I am separate from you.” In our own backyard a white policeman in Ferguson, Missouri has been filmed calling black fellow citizens “(expletive) animals.”

While these are extreme cases, I bet most of us can sense an instinct towards separateness within ourselves. As such, today’s Gospel may come as a shock. Jesus sees the world differently than we do. He says “whoever welcomes you, welcomes me.” More alarming he adds “whoever welcomes me, welcomes the One who sent me.” What? Jesus’ world seems way, way more connected than ours. How does this work?

The Connected One

If we look around the gospels we see Jesus statement is not just pretty poetry. Jesus says essentially the same thing at least four more times in Matthew’s Gospel alone. In fact, the climax of the Gospel, the vast judgment scene, Jesus doubles down on this connection saying “when I was hungry you fed ME….when I was naked you clothed ME… for whatever you did for the least of these my sisters and brothers you did to ME.” (Matthew 25).

An increasingly popular theological term for the language Jesus is using is “non-dualism,” particularly among some Franciscan writers. (See below). Dualistic thinking separates things – physical vs. spiritual, heaven vs. hell, male vs. female, good vs. evil, saved vs. unsaved etc. When we reach the age of two we are all dualistic. Students of human development tell us that our tiny ego has to separate from the mother to be formed, just like a teenager needs to become a dualist in relation to family. The spiritual path is very much a return home, a journey back to connection and oneness. Perhaps this is why Jesus talks about dying to self so much. We have to “unlearn” this separation to grow spiritually.

Folks who study hundreds of years of contemplative experiences tell us these experiences are virtually never dualistic! Love loses itself in the other. Our contemplative experience confirms that Paul was absolutely right when he wrote to the Romans “Nothing can separate us from the love of God.” Try as we might, finite creatures like us cannot get outside an infinite God. If we are experiencing separateness from God, it is an illusion. I am in God, you are in God. Jesus was right; whatever happens to you in some way does happen to me.

Non-dualism In Everyday Life

I would like to offer you a meditation technique that puts us in a posture for non-dualism. Let’s quiet ourselves for a minute and become conscious of our breathing – in and out. As you breathe in I want you to imagine God saying to you “I love you, ____.” You fill in your name in the blank. As you breathe out you return that love to God. I recommend you use the word “Christ” saying on the exhale “I love you, Christ.” In our tradition the word “Christ” often refers to Jesus in all. As the writer to the Colossians says “Christ is before all things and in Christ all things hold together.” (Col 1:17). (Read that line a few times!).

This little meditation may help us glimpse Christ in all things, holding them together. It may be a flower, a bird, a person, a tree. Little by little we love Christ in the world and become awakened to the connection. By doing so, we chip away at the dualism that is all around us and in our faith tradition.

I am attracted to how non-dualism positions me toward the world. If Christ is holding everything together, everything is sacred. This corrects what most us learned about “original sin,” which is extremely dualistic. Sin becomes marring what is sacred. Polluting the world or my body is desecration. Warehousing people in jails is desecration. Racial profiling is desecration. The wars we reference tonight are desecrations of what is sacred. Our ministry is to step by step, little by little, call forth and restore the sacredness of people and things.

We do not need to know about Jesus to know that non-dualism is real. It is in our human DNA. At the beginning of the cold war President Kennedy went to Berlin which had been broken in two and isolated by the Russians. His speech captivated the world when he said in English and German “All people of goodwill are citizens of Berlin, I am a citizen of Berlin.” A similar feeling of connection arose around the world after 9/11. Friends and foes across the globe waved American flags and gathered at our embassies saying in various ways “today we are American, what happens to you happens to me.”

I hope Jesus’ words of radical connection are good news for you tonight. Perhaps you are experiencing separateness from God or others and the gospel brings hope. Perhaps your ongoing service to family or to clients could be encouraged by a reminder of how connected you are to those you serve. Regardless, let’s come around the table tonight breathing out the prayer “I love you, Christ” as Christ appears to us in many shapes and sizes around the table.

 

Amen

George von Stamwitz

Sts. Clare & Francis Ecumenical Catholic Community

Liturgy for the 21st Sunday of Ordinary Time

Saturday Evening, August 23, 2014

Focus text: Matthew 10:40-42

Photo by Guilherme Oliveira on flickr.com

 

For reading on non-dualism try, The Emergent Christ, by Ilia Delio.

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