The UUCM interim ministry team will now be sharing a weekly pastoral message on Wednesdays. Rev. Meg, Rev. Terri and Arif will take turns writing or recording a video. This replaces Friday’s “In the Interim” post from the troika. The Friday Update email will continue to go out with events, announcements, news, and board updates. This week’s post is offered by Arif Mamdani.
“We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
-Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
These last many weeks, I’ve been returning again and again to these words from Dr. King. This pandemic has done a great many things, amongst them, it has underscored what we UUs know as our 7th Principle: “Respect for the interdependent web of existence of which we are all a part.” For many of us, this is a time when we uniquely feel this “network of mutuality” when we are uniquely, even viscerally aware of our common “garment of destiny.”
I’ve also been reflecting on another aspect of King’s thought: the tension between the will to mutuality and the will to power. Though I’ve looked high and low, I have yet to find a quote that succinctly expresses this aspect of his social ethics and theological outlook, but I believe that for King, this tension between the individual will to power and the collective will to mutuality formed the basis of his understanding of the fundamental dilemma we humans face, as well as a core aspect of where and how love calls us on.
I raise all this because right now, hand in hand with our visceral awareness of our collective destiny is an increased appeal to our will to individual power. It’s all over the news these days. I know you’ve seen what I’m talking about. Its greatest expression might be the protests calling for an end to quarantine and tweets from the highest power in the land calling for the “liberation” of select states. But we see it in small ways too, from the hoarding of supplies to the ways that at least in some parts of the Twin Cities, folks aren’t just physically distancing, but are also avoiding eye contact, as if connecting with another person at a human level can transmit the unseen virus. The seductive message we hear sounds something like “I can keep myself and those closest to me safe. I can make sure I have what I need. If we all just take care of ourselves, we’ll all be fine.”
Which is to say that many of us feel that we’re walking a bit of a tightrope these days, or better yet, balancing on one of those slacklines that many of our kids have played on. The interesting thing about balancing on a slackline is that when one first steps on, there’s a natural inclination to focus at our feet, looking down to make sure we know where we are and where our next step should land. The problem is that this focus on our feet magnifies the challenge of staying balanced and upright. The corrective is to look up, to look to the horizon, to keep our eyes fixed on where we’re headed, not worrying so much about the next step, or two, or eight.
The analogy to our present moment should be pretty clear. We’re trying to balance between consumeristic messages that appeal to our illusion of separateness, even while our hearts, minds, and bodies feel our interconnection in ways we haven’t before. Each day can feel like a tightrope where we’re trying to walk the line between care for ourselves and those closest to us and care for the collective – that interdependent web of existence of which we are all a part, and which we cannot exist without.
I wish there was a magic recipe for how to maintain our balance in these times. A five point plan for caring for ourselves and each other. But we all know that reality resists cliches and platitudes. What I do know is that I’ve been recalling the words of my meditation teacher who says that the best thing we can do is “follow our nose” and trust ourselves. And that’s what I want to offer you – an invitation to trust yourself. Admittedly, it can be hard to hear the authentic voice of our hearts. Yet as UUs, we believe that each of us is important, each of us holds a piece of truth, and that without our collective wisdom, our garment of destiny is incomplete. So let’s trust ourselves to listen carefully to where we’re called, let’s support each other in resisting the seductive illusion of separateness and control and instead keep our eyes on the horizon of mutuality and where we are called together. As Arundhati Roy once famously said, “another world is not only possible, she is on her way, and on a quiet day I can hear her breathing.” May we go there together.