Wednesday, October 7, 2009

On the Seventh Principle

(Reverence) for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part…

In his first letter to the Corinthian churches, Paul draws an analogy between the inter-dependence of an individual’s bodily organs and the inter-connectedness of the church of God. “If one member suffers, all suffer together with it,” he insists. “If one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.”

When Unitarian Universalists weave a web of intimate relationality, they do so against both a Manichaen dualism of cosmic cleavage and a Neo-Platonic division of the human subject. To enter into a world of interconnection is to move beyond indifference, tolerance, even community, into a metaphysical morass of radical mutuality. Far from the abstract notions of being or existence, with which Heidegger and Satre theorize, the interconnected web necessitates Becket’s rhetoric of “the mess.” In a very real sense, the fortune and fate of togetherness shape every innovation, every act of rebellion, every fleeting feeling, every independent decision, every manifestation of Dasein that is staged on the with-world. As Paul intuits, the same life-force that pulsates through throbbing arteries lifts geese into flight, falls tenderly in tears and booms with daggers of flashing light.

In solidarity, however, nothing is solide. Unity belies uniformity, permanence surfaces as but a “word of degrees” (Emerson). The ever-expanding, ever-consolidating, ever-undulating web of interdependence exhibits Schlegel’s “chaotic universality.” Each fragment holds an imprint of the whole, yet the totality never stabilizes. To covenant is to name this fractured harmony, to make explicit this tenuous cohesion, allowing the promises we share to pull the elastic cord tighter – to introduce the blessing of responsibility: “At home, and outside, I place my trust in You” (Sri Guru Granth Sahib).

Does this stormy pattern warrant reverence? The other day, while co-instructing an unruly mass of eight-graders, I witnessed chaos blossom into affinitive community. Amidst the noise of pubescent pranks, squeals and grunts arose a symphony of shared aspirations, anxieties and avidities. I couldn’t help but think to Venturi’s truism: less is a bore. In that moment of messy vitality, as boys complained and girls giggled, the “difficult unity of exclusion” eclipsed an “easy unity of exclusion.” Everyone was needed, everyone was implicated, everyone was present – even God.

For Frankfurt pastor Clemens Taesler, life occasions reverence (Ehrfurcht), “in us, beside, under and above us.” To experience God, humanity and the natural world is to celebrate glory, honesty and privilege (Ehre), while acknowledging the tenderness of awe and fear (Furcht).

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