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Center for Action and Contemplation

Unity with the Spirit

Wednesday, May 26, 2021


Unity with the Spirit
Wednesday, May 26, 2021

While we have the language of philosophy, psychology, modern science, and sociology to describe the truth of universal interconnectedness, the mystics first described it based on their own experience. In this meditation, African American mystic and scholar Howard Thurman (18991981) reminds us of how our love for God is one with our love for our neighbor.

Long ago, Plotinus [205–270 CE] wrote, “If we are in unity with the Spirit, we are in unity with each other, and so we are all one.” [1] The words of this ancient Greek mystic are suggestive; for they call attention to the underlying unity of all of life. The recognition of the Spirit of God as the unifying principle of all life becomes at once the most crucial experience of humanity. It says that whoever is aware of the Spirit of God in themselves enters the doors that lead into the life of their fellow people. The same idea is stated in ethical terms in the New Testament when the suggestion is made that, if a person says they love God, whom they hath not seen, and does not love their brother or sister who is with them, they are a liar and the truth does not dwell in them [1 John 4:20]. The way is difficult, because it is very comforting to withdraw from the responsibility of unity with one’s fellow people and to enter alone into the solitary contemplation of God. One can have . . . [perfect] solitary communion without the risks of being misunderstood, of having one’s words twisted, of having to be on the defensive about one’s true or alleged attitude. In the quiet fellowship with one’s God, one may seem to be relieved of any necessity to make headway against heavy odds. This is why one encounters persons of deep piousness and religiosity who are intolerant and actively hostile toward their fellow people. Some of the most terrifying hate organizations in the country are made up in large part of persons who are very devout in their worship of their God.

The test to which Plotinus puts us, however, is very searching. To be in unity with the Spirit is to be in unity with one’s fellow people. Not to be in unity with one’s fellow people is thereby not to be in unity with the Spirit. The pragmatic test of one’s unity with the Spirit is found in the unity with one’s fellow people. We see what this means when we are involved in the experience of a broken relationship. When I have lost harmony with another, my whole life is thrown out of tune. God tends to be remote and far away when a desert and sea appear between me and another. I draw close to God as I draw close to my fellow people. The great incentive remains ever alert; I cannot be at peace without God, and I cannot be truly aware of God if I am not at peace with my fellow people.

[1] Plotinus, Enneads, VI.5.7.

Howard Thurman, Meditations of the Heart (Beacon Press: 1981), 120–121. Note: Minor edits made to incorporate gender-inclusive language.

Story from Our Community:
I have long pondered the interwoven nature of divine love and suffering since I began reading Fr. Richard’s books ten years ago—the capacity to have your heart broken without resorting to bitterness. I’ve had my share of these experiences but nothing prepared me for having my husband of 31 years tell me he wants a divorce. I know the profound pain is an invitation to a deeper place of love and being— but it’s not a cup I want. The Daily Meditations and podcasts keep me going. And I don’t say this lightly. —Theresa L.

Image credit: Chaokun Wang, Landscape 山水 (detail), 2017, photograph, Wikiart.
Image inspiration: We are connected in ways we cannot begin to understand. One small water molecule sits in relationship to billions of others and is, in fact, part of an ocean. It lives in relationship to the tide, the winds, the heat, the rain, its own hydrologic cycle. And so it is with all of us, the humans, together and connected.
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