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Center for Action and Contemplation
We Are One and Many
We Are One and Many

The Spirit of Ubuntu

Monday, February 7, 2022

CAC friend Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis finds inspiration in the African concept of “ubuntu,” which means “I am who I am because we are who we are.” The ubuntu vision of relatedness can provide healing in the midst our many current crises and divisions:

Even before COVID-19 showed up in our global family, we were living in what I call “hot-mess times.” In our current context, race and ethnicity, caste and color, gender and sexuality, socioeconomic status and education, religion and political party have all become reasons to divide and be conquered by fear and rancor. . . . Put simply, we are in a perilous time, and the answer to the question “Who are we to be?” will have implications for generations to come.

We have a choice to make. We can answer this question with diminished imagination, by closing ranks with our tribe and hiding from our human responsibility to heal the world. Or we can answer the question of who we are to be another way: We can answer it in the spirit of ubuntu. The concept comes from the Zulu phrase Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu, which literally means that a person is a person through other people. Another translation is, “I am who I am because we are who we are.” . . . With this in mind, who I will be is deeply related to who you are. In other words, we are each impacted by the circumstances that impact those around us. What hurts you hurts me. What heals you heals me. What causes you joy causes me to rejoice, and what makes you sad also causes me to weep.

By channeling the ancient wisdom of ubuntu, we can engineer a badly needed love revolution to rise up out of the ashes of our current reality. . . . The empathy that grows from listening to others, from connecting with our neighbors, and from loving our neighbors as we love ourselves can define the courses of action we take. [1]

Father Richard finds a similarly unifying perspective in the spirituality of Julian of Norwich (1343–c. 1416). He writes:

The divisions, dichotomies, and dualisms of the world can only be overcome by a unitive consciousness at every level: personal, relational, social, political, cultural, in inter-religious dialogue, and spirituality in particular. A transformed people unite all within themselves, so they can then do the same in the world. [2]

My favorite Christian mystic, Julian of Norwich, used the Old English term “oneing” to describe what happens between God and the soul. As Julian put it, “By myself I am nothing at all; but in general I am, I hope, in the oneing of love . . . for it is in this oneing that the life of all people consists.” She also wrote, “The charity of God creates in us such a oneing that when it is truly seen, no person can separate themselves from another” and “In the sight of God, all humans are oned, and one person is all people.” [3]

[1] Jacqui Lewis, Fierce Love: A Bold Path to Ferocious Courage and Rule-Breaking Kindness That Can Heal the World (New York: Harmony Books, 2021), 11–12.

[2] Adapted from Richard Rohr, A Spring within Us: A Book of Daily Meditations (Albuquerque, NM: CAC Publishing, 2016),39.

[3] Julian of Norwich, Revelations of Divine Love, chapters 9, 65, 51. Note: Minor changes made to incorporate inclusive language.

Explore Further. . .

Image credit: Barbara Holmes, Untitled 24 (detail), 2021, photograph, United States, used with permission. Warren K. Leffler, View of the huge crowd, 1963 (detail), photograph, public domain. Warren K. Leffler, Demonstrators sit, 1963 (detail), photograph, public domain. Jenna Keiper and Leslye Colvin, 2021, triptych art, United States.

The creative team at CAC sent a single-use camera to core teacher Dr. Barbara Holmes as part of an exploration into contemplative photography. Her photos are featured here together with historical images in a form inspired by early Christian/Catholic triptych art: a threefold form that tells a unified story. 

Image inspiration: Humanity is One although we are as diverse as flowers in a field. There is power in many different individuals coming together for one purpose—the March on Washington reminds us that together we have the capacity to be a transformative body and force for change.

Story from Our Community:

I once did a meditation on the icon of the Trinity. I felt like I was a fountain being slowly drawn into the center. The process repeated until I was in total sync with the Trinity that I was no longer aware of myself. I am absorbed into the world around me and feel a deepening bond that I was unaware of until now. I’m aware of a oneness with all and in that unity, I hold everything in prayer for Divine Grace and Healing.
—Julie D.

Share your own story with us.

Prayer for our community:

God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough,  because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.

Listen to the prayer.


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In a world of fault lines and fractures, how do we expand our sense of self to include love, healing, and forgiveness—not just for ourselves or those like us, but for all? This monthly email features wisdom and stories from the emerging Christian contemplative movement. Join spiritual seekers from around the world and discover your place in the Great Story Line connecting us all in the One Great Life. Conspirare. Breathe with us.