My friend Catherine Gregg says the goal of our spiritual growth is “Oneness with God.” I’d add, “Oneness with God and each other,” but I don’t think you can separate the two; they are dependent on each other.
But what is oneness? Is it a pie-in-the-sky ideal, or is it something we can experience here on earth? I’d like to suggest it is what we are working toward every day, and we will occasionally get to experience it. Perhaps we will experience it more and more over time. It takes time because we have to get past a huge roadblock — the space between us. Any space that keeps us apart, the color of our skin, our social economic status, our voting record, our religious or sexual preferences, all of these things keep us separated into us-and-them categories. But, sometimes we can see beyond that into oneness.
Here’s a story to illustrate:
I don’t go around hugging strangers. I’m warm and affectionate to my family and close friends, but the church I’m currently visiting has a greeting time where everyone hugs each other. It feels very uncomfortable to me, though I’m trying to get past the awkwardness of strangers invading my bubble.
But, recently I went to visit a new hospice patient in her home. I was met by her daughter, who is about sixty years old, and who is also her mother’s caregiver. When she invited me in, she stopped and pointed to a dog bed on the floor with a blanket draped over it. She looked at me with tears in her eyes and said, “My dog just died.” Before I could even consider what I was doing, I had her in my arms and held her while she cried. In that moment, we were one. We were not strangers meeting for the first time, we were humans, together in an experience of deep loss that we could both relate to. Even though we had just met, the otherness of her was swept aside by our common pain and shared experience. That is what I mean by oneness, or unity; it is a goal for the human race to be that with each other and with God. It is developing the ability to see beyond our differences to our shared human experience.
But most often we are dualistic, like the way I feel at the church I’m visiting. I am me, and you are you, and why are you getting into my space? This is also true of much of our thinking, it is either/or, black/white, us/them, in/out. I’m not saying it’s always bad to be separate and have boundaries, I’m just saying our long term spiritual goal moves us away from the things that separate us toward a unity of being, with each other and with God. In the words of the Quakers, we “look for that of God in each other.”
A prayer that I often pray before my day begins is, “God, give me your eyes today. Help me see people the way you do.” I challenge you to try this and see if it makes a difference. Let me know what you find out.