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Center for Action and Contemplation

Corporate Love

Tuesday, September 24, 2019


Corporate Love
Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Humans throughout history have often had a strong appreciation for and connection with their ancestors. I think the collective notion of oneness is what Christians were trying to verbalize when they made a late addition to the ancient Apostles’ Creed: “I believe in the communion of saints.” They were offering us the idea that the dead are at one with the living, whether they’re our direct ancestors, the saints in glory, or even the so-called souls in purgatory.

Sister Catherine Nerney, SSJ illustrates this idea in her book The Compassion Connection: Recovering Our Original Oneness:

I, who once found life within my mother, was in turn responsible for my mother’s ongoing life in me.

The Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh tells a beautiful story about an experience he had following his mother’s death which makes this point very powerfully:

The day my mother died I wrote in my journal, “A serious misfortune in my life has arrived.” I suffered for more than one year after the passing away of my mother. But one night in the highlands of Vietnam, I was sleeping in the hut of my hermitage. I dreamed of my mother. I saw myself sitting with her, and we were having a wonderful talk. She looked young and beautiful, her hair flowing down. It was so pleasant to sit there and talk with her as if she had never died. When I woke up it was about two in the morning, and I felt very strongly that I had never lost my mother. The impression that my mother was still with me was very clear. I understood then that the idea of having lost my mother was just an idea. It was obvious in that moment that my mother is always alive in me. [1]

This kind of mutual interdependence I sense to be true. We live in and through one another. We become ourselves only in and through a process of mutual inter-becoming. It all began in God’s own creative, self-giving love. Much deeper than the inevitability of my [physically] resembling my earthly mother is the reality of my core identity, the core identity of all who bear the same family resemblance, a unique but related face of compassion—the same divine Love has birthed us all. God will never be dead as long as we’re alive. [2]

The whole thing is one, just at different stages, all of it loved corporately by God (and, one hopes, by us). Within this worldview, we are saved not by being privately perfect, but by being “part of the body,” humble links in the great chain of history. This view echoes the biblical concept of a covenant love that was granted to the Jewish people as a whole, and never just to one individual like Abraham, Sarah, Moses, Esther, or David. Similarly, the prophets and Jesus spoke both their judgments and their promises to the collective of the House of Jacob, Moab, Bashan, Gilgal, Capernaum, Bethsaida, Jerusalem (and on and on) much more than they ever did to individuals. Many Christians’ failure to recognize this has led to a major misinterpretation of the entire Bible. 

[1] Thich Nhat Hanh, No Death, No Fear: Comforting Wisdom for Life (Riverhead Books: 2002), 5.

[2] Catherine T. Nerney, The Compassion Connection: Recovering Our Original Oneness (Orbis Books: 2018), 12-13.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope For, and Believe (Convergent: 2019), 163-164.

Image credit: The Old Shepherd’s Chief Mourner (detail), Edwin Henry Landseer, 1837, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, England.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: In the weeks before she died, Venus somehow communicated to me that all sadness, whether cosmic, human, or canine, is one and the same. Somehow, her eyes were all eyes, even God’s eyes, and the sadness she expressed was a divine and universal sadness. . . . Creation is one giant symphony of mutual sympathy. —Richard Rohr
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