I was reading an interesting article in the Guardian on-line last week. It’s written by the Brisbane novelist Nick Earls, based on a larger book that he’s written, called Empires. He writes, “I went looking for ordinary coincidence in the world, but what I found was extraordinary. How many everyday wonders do we miss because we’ve blinded ourselves to the inevitability of chance?”
Nick Earls was reflecting on a brain-teaser problem, actually. How many of the same molecules do you breathe-in that the famous Roman general Julius Caesar once breathed in a single breath? Of course, the point of his article was not that we breathe in between two and eight of the very molecules that Julius Caesar breathed in a single breath, but rather, that we often miss the beauty around us, because we have blinded ourselves. We miss the beautiful coincidences all around us, like the fact that we are connected across thousands of years with an ancient Roman general, because we forget that there is extraordinary beauty in the apparent randomness of our world.
Earls goes on “How much of this do we miss when we aren’t looking for it? … Coincidences are everywhere. I look for them more now. It’s a habit that’s hard to break. And I keep finding them.” … “We and the molecules we eat and breathe and share are far more tightly enmeshed than we realise. We really are all in this together, for better or worse. And our own individual actions really will add up to decide which of those it will be.”
Let me give you the Bruce McAvaney summary of this article: life is special! It’s beautiful and we’re all in this together. We’re all connected. I think that spirituality, at its best, when it’s doing what it’s supposed to do, points us to life, true life, abundant life, life in all its beauty and creativity.
On some mornings as I sit doing my morning meditation and journaling before I come to school, when I read the ancient writers of the Bible, they speak to me, across the generations, across empires and continents, through years of people of faith trying to make a difference in the world, and they say to me, “Keep going: it’s important.”
Just sitting in stillness, battling through the desire to solve all the world’s problems in one short time of prayer, and reaching a place of stillness, is the place we discover that we are connected. It’s what St Paul was trying to say in his letter to the Ephesians (chapter 4) when he writes about us all being part of the one body in Christ; it’s his way of saying that we are all connected.
That will be how you will change the world, simply by remembering that we are all connected, today, as in right now.
Each of us has his or her part to play. Each part of the body has a part to play. For some, it is as easy as praying for the world each day. I say it’s easy to pray – it’s only easy if you get into the habit of doing it – but it does get easier, the more you practise, in my experience. I have always felt upheld by the saints of long ago, who are praying for me, “all-fathers” as Thor refers to them in the Avengers Infinity War film. Actually, as it happens, I feel a very strong connection with one of my all-mothers in particular: Grandma on Dad’s side. But that aside, wherever heaven is, whatever form my ancestors now take, spiritual beings, part of the mystery of the cosmos, the unknown part of science, the part we haven’t yet discovered yet, whatever that looks like, they give me strength.
I have a painting in my little office here at St Peter’s College at the moment. It’s of my grandfather on Dad’s side. Mum and I worked out he was in his mid-forties when it was painted. He was old scholar of SPSC, as it happens, listed on the honour board in Memorial Hall foyer. He was a chaplain in WWII. Does he exist in some pan-cosmic relationship with this universe, in another space-time dimension, a spiritual existence, that in our limited language we call heaven?
I’d like to think so. Our tradition says he does. My personal faith says he does. But what I know scientifically, without a shadow of a doubt, is that he and I breathe the same air on this blue and green planet. We go through similar struggles, separated several decades – he died the year before I was born – but we face similar struggles and know similar joys.
On this precious planet we each have our part to play, and we each need to play our part, as part of the body of Christ. We do this by leading lives full of humility and gentleness.
The easy part of the work, provided you practise, is praying for others. The hard part, but prayer will help you, is what follows: the thoughts, the words, and the deeds. God bless you, as the ancients pray for you and as we breathe the same air on this beautiful planet, together.
The Reverend Dr Theo McCall