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Creation and Connectedness
Creation and Connectedness

A Web of Belonging

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Writer and speaker Diana Butler Bass describes how the great chain of being has evolved into a great web of belonging:

In the ancient and medieval worlds, people believed the universe was structured as a “great chain of being.” The “fan” of reality began with God and cascaded downward through all of creation from high to low: angels, humanity, animals, plants, and minerals. This “fan” formed a pyramid, with the most important beings at the top…. This pyramid structure, the great chain of being, was believed to be the sacred pattern of the universe, in which authority, power, and knowledge flowed downward. Everyone and everything had a place. Yet in a deeply spiritual way everything was also connected to God, since God was the head of all. To stay in one’s place ensured earthly protection and eternal salvation. Hence, ancestry was important—it located every person in this spiritual superstructure, securing each a place in God’s divine order in this life and beyond.

But there is another way of seeing a spiritual pattern to the universe. Through the search for our ancestors, we discover that the branches of our family trees are entangled. When we make our way through the thick canopy of the past, we discover that lineage is anything but a line. It looks far more like a web.

The great chain of being has been replaced by a “web of life” or “web of belonging.”… Our conception of reality has shifted from top-down chains of authority supported by technical expertise and mechanical organization toward living systems of interrelationship and interdependency knit together in a web of life [1] … [or] the great web of belonging.

Bass suggests that God’s original relationship to creation is one of loving intimacy:

Throughout all major world religions is a subtext of this alternative, the insight that creation is not bound by a divine hierarchical order but is, instead, a circle or dance or tapestry, where God, humanity, and nature participate together in community. Indeed, the ancient biblical creation stories relate a tale of intimacy between God and the world, an intimacy that becomes broken but that nonetheless is the primary relationship between God and creation from the beginning. Religion, with its cycle of rituals based upon Sabbaths, months, and seasons, was intended to reconnect God with humanity and nature.

Ancient monotheism had more in common with what we now call tribal religion—which is decentralized, local, relational, and nature-oriented—than any modern religious institution. In the Bible, God is not mediated through structures; rather, structures provided ways for people to participate in the divine realities that infused the world around them.…

The shift from God at the zenith of the great chain of being toward God with us in a great web of belonging is the heart of today’s spiritual revolution.… The great web is the woven world of the planet and the people and the God who dwells therein.

[1] Fritjof Capra, The Web of Life: A New Scientific Understanding of Living Systems (New York: Anchor Books, 1997).

Diana Butler Bass, Grounded: Finding God in the World; A Spiritual Revolution (New York: HarperOne, 2015), 152–154, 155.

Image credit: A path from one week to the next—Alma Thomas, Red Abstraction (detail), 1959, oil on canvas. Loïs Mailou Jones, Shapes and Colors (detail), 1958, watercolor on paper. Madison Frambes, Untitled 4 (detail), 2023, naturally dyed paper and ink, used with permission. Click here to enlarge image.

The squares, circles, triangles, reds, blues, yellows, patterns and textures are all part of the same great whole.

Story from Our Community:  

The Daily Meditation on August 16, 2023 [quoting Joan Chittister] about Saint Catherine of Siena touched my soul in a way I’ve never experienced. As a female in the Church, I struggled with feeling like a second-class citizen. In the late 90s, a priest invited a small group of women to stand behind the altar to read the words of the consecration with him. From that moment, I felt deeply that I too was a “priest, prophet and king.” My Creator’s words to Catherine spoke to me as well. I don’t need human affirmation. I humbly accept my role in modeling and spreading the Good News. —Adrienne Q.

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