The Beauty of Belonging
Life is filled with connections.
To the modern mind, science has revealed many of these wonderous connections: the genetic information that we inherit from our parents and which they in turn received from their parents running back through time well beyond recorded history; the chemical elements in our bodies which were born in the stars of the universe and eventually come to us through the diverse range of life forms that we consume from mango to mackerel; the oxygen that we breathe that comes from the photosynthesis of plants; the carbon dioxide that we excrete which nourishes plant life; the bacteria that we harbour in our guts which helps us to digest food; the water that we use and excrete that contributes to the water cycle; the family environment that we grow up in which helps to build our character; the surrounding human culture that shapes our identity; and the human family that we belong to forming one worldwide species of modern human.
Every person we meet, indeed every living thing on earth has grown from the ancient lineage of the tree of life. We are not alone!
Each one of us could choose to explore any single connection and spend a lifetime exploring its significance. This is what some scientists do, painstakingly observing a single phenomenon and trying to make sense of it. But what if we try to understand all the connections together. Is such a thing possible?
The philosopher Sartre believed that God’s existence is beside the point. We humans are ‘thrown into the world’ and must make sense of it for ourselves. This might feel true in the sense that we don’t ask to be born but the important point is that we are born into a social and ecological world, a world full of present connections with significant links to the past. Everything in the universe is interdependent.
If science and our faith tell us anything, it is that our existence is primarily social. We have been born into a social world within a wider ecological world, filled with connections. It is short-sighted and overtly individualistic to suggest that we have been simply ‘thrown into the world’.
The great metaphysical poet John Donne beautifully expressed our connected reality:
No man is an island, Entire of itself, Every man is a piece of the continent, A part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less. As well as if a promontory were. As well as if a manor of thy friend's Or of thine own were: Any man's death diminishes me, Because I am involved in mankind, And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.
Now, more than four hundred years after that poem was written, we know that our connectivity is even greater. Echoing Donne, we can enlarge our vision to say that we are ‘involved in creation’. This involvement suggests to us where the meaning of our individual lives is to be found.
It also helps us to answer the question of whether it is possible to try to understand all the countless connections that sustain us.