On that day, you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.
I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit…Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.
At the delightful fundraising concert last Monday evening, Beverly talked about “serendipity”, which she defined as… the faculty of making happy and unexpected discoveries by accident.
Jung called a similar experience “synchronicity”, when life events fall together in a meaningful way.
Our more secular society usually refers to such occurrences as “a strange coincidence”. “That’s a funny coincidence,” we might say. But as Frederick Buechner observes, “A coincidence is simply God’s way of getting our attention.”
So whether you call it serendipity, synchronicity or coincidence, I appreciate experiences like this because they remind us that there’s more going on than meets the eye. They suggest that we’re connected in ways usually unseen but vividly real.
We spoke about such things last September as we considered, for better or worse, the way we fell into your lap. I shared with you an e-mail from a former member of St. David’s, Vancouver, who now lives in Arizona. When she found out that we were coming to Pontypridd, Wales, she wrote an e-mail with the tone: you won’t believe this, but…The e-mail was sent from Mary, daughter of Dilys Maddin. She told me how her mother, Dilys, was born and raised in Pontypridd. Some of you will recall that Dilys got married shortly
after the war, and moved to Vancouver. A church was beginning to form just up the road from them, so in 1957 they became part of that early movement to build a church and grow a congregation. You may also recall that Dilys was the one who suggested the church in Vancouver be called St. David’s, after the patron saint of her beloved Wales. And it came to pass.
Over the course of the last nine months, I’ve discovered there’s more to the story. It turns out that Dilys Maddin, then Hughes, lived in Hopkinstown and attended Capel Rhondda, where her father was the organist and where we worshipped last Sunday night for the shared Pentecost Praise service. I discovered this history a few months ago when I saw Fiona’s husband, Gethin, who surprised me with the rather mysterious greeting, “Dilys Maddin.”
“Yes,” I answered. “Dilys and Charles…”
And he said, “Dilys was my great aunt.”
Well slap my head with wonder. I couldn’t believe it. Really? Of 7 billion people in the world, one of the 35 founding members of St. David’s in Vancouver, and one of the few still alive when I served that community, happens to come from Ponty and just so happens to be related to another United Church minister and husband/father of members of St. David’s, Pontypridd?
A coincidence is God’s way of getting our attention.
Naturally, I find as I’m sure you do that thinking of Gethin and Dilys and St. David’s here and St. David’s there makes one think of the Trinity, don’t you find? Or, perhaps more accurately, these kinds of surprising connections and amazing, unseen threads of relationship remind me on this Trinity Sunday of our interconnectedness.
Really, that’s what the Trinity is about, I think. The relational quality of all life, but more; the inter-related connection we all share. Often it is unseen, but for that no less real. Synchronistic, serendipitous coincidences disclose for a moment what is there all along: a vast web of life.
There’s never been a doubt in anyone’s mind that I’m not a scientist. Never did I have a chemistry or biology teacher say, “Dan, you should really think about going into science.” However, I love reading about science in my thoroughly pedestrian way, especially when science stumbles upon some “unexplainables.” For example, the quark offers no end of wonder.
You may recall that quarks are found inside the nucleus of an atom. In the 18th century, scientists developed the technology that led to the microscope that allowed them first to see and describe cells. The technology advanced and they were able to hone in more closely and within the cells discovered molecules, then within the molecules discovered atoms. “There”, they thought, brushing their hands together like a baker who had finished rolling dough for a loaf of bread; “that task is complete. We found the building blocks of the universe. Viola! The atom.”
This image fit nicely into the Newtonian understanding of the universe. Everything is made up of separate, individual bits. We’re all individuals bumping around and affecting each other, but distinct and apart. Ultimate reality, from planets to atoms, were considered to be autonomous, isolated, and fundamentally independent. We set-up our economic systems and international diplomacy based on this view of reality: we are distinct and in competition.
Ooops. But then they discovered there’s more. In the 1960’s, scientists hypothesized and then discovered elements inside the nucleus of an atom and that really upset the Newtonian apple-cart. There was something inside the nucleus of an atom, which physicist Murray Gell-Mann called “quarks” (after a line from James Joyce’s novel Finnegan’s Wake, “Three quarks for Muster Mark…”). Now quarks seemed to have two interesting and confounding essential qualities:
(1) quarks don’t behave as independent and discrete bits. They seem to exist only in relationship: each quark has a partner (up/down, strange/charm, top/bottom), and each quark exists in relationship to two other quarks. They come in packages of three and are held together by something scientists call “gluon”, which I love, because it sounds like it’s right from Star Trek or my old Flash Gordon comic book. Scientists cannot isolate a single quark, and when they try, the pull between the quarks becomes so great that other quarks spring into existence (from ‘where’ one doesn’t know) creating the balance of three.
(2) Even more enchanting, when you get down to this sub-atomic level of reality, it’s not very helpful to speak about ‘matter’. A quark is not a ‘thing’. That is to say, they’re more like energy that come in wave-packets. Like light, sometimes they show up as a wave, and sometimes as a particle.
For the last 40 years at least we’ve known that nature is not made up of isolated, discrete bits of matter, but of patterns of energy interrelating. What is most natural to reality is the dance of relationship, not isolated chunks of matter.
As my colleague in Vancouver writes, “Reality is relationship. Science has discovered what the religious intuition has sensed for thousands of years. We exist in a seamless web of inter-connectedness. Our doctrine of the Trinity suddenly has new relevance. It affirms that God likes company.” (Bruce Sanguine, sermon, July 4, 2007).
Perhaps this is what Jesus meant when he said, On that day, you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you (John 14:20).
Or, in the more homey and less theological language of John Muir: “When we try to pick anything out by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.”
This intuition of interconnectivity ignores cultural or religious boarders. Over two thousand years ago, a seer in India, author of the Upanishads, wrote:
As is the human body, so is the cosmic body…
As is the microcosm, so is the macrocosm.
As is the atom, so is the universe.
What physicists are discovering dancing in the nucleus of an atom, the ancients somehow intuited as the inter-looping nature of reality. What comes to my mind is the triskele, those interconnected swirls that are found on ancient burial sites, often in patterns of three. Call it a serendipitous, synchronistic coincidence if you want, it seems to me that God’s having a great time trying to get our attention.
The Celtic knot developed later, but the various and beautiful patterns also remind us of the deep, interwoven pattern of reality. These threaded patterns that have no beginning and no end, that seem to be distinct yet are interwoven, are a beautiful rendition of the deep truth underlying all that is – we are all connected, and in that connection is God. God is our ‘gluon’, the great connector.
Early Church Fathers spoke about the Trinity as a ‘holy dance.’ The Greek is perichoreo; peri meaning “around” and choreo meaning “to dance” (choreography). The image then is of the three ‘persons’ of the Trinity dancing, each around the other two. I’m delighted with this image of the Trinity because it represents a God that is not solid and static, but dancing and dynamic; a God that is alive; a God on the move.
A Christian community is based on this dancing, dynamic reality of God. We are to abide in Jesus, as Jesus abides in us. Where Jesus stops and we begin, or where we stop and Jesus begins I’m not sure, exactly. The vine becomes the branch seamlessly. The two are connected.
This is a community that’s familiar with this holy dance the early church fathers knew. You know the dance steps. It’s like a reel, where we link arms and swing our partners in a swirling, moving pattern, separating and meeting again. You have invited us into this dance and our hearts have thrilled with your good company and faithful witness to the world.
When we first came, we couldn’t immediately make-out the dance steps. It seemed to be a lot of people we didn’t know moving around in a great circle of life. But now we can tell who’s on the dance floor, even in the dark. We know your walk, your sway and the way you sing as you dance. As Colleen, Katherine, Janet and I shuffle off this dance floor, I find some solace in trusting the interconnected reality of the universe, from quarks to Celtic knots, from gluons to the Great Connector that is God.
And just as Gethin is related to Dilys who lived in Pontypridd before moving to Vancouver where she joined a group of Christians developing a church that would be called St. David’s where I would serve before coming to St. David’s in Ponty and meeting you all, who knows how our life will be connected? All we can say is that we’re interrelated, and that, my good friends, is more than a coincidence.
And I pray and fully trust that the God of all serendipity, synchronicity and funny coincidence continues to play in your life, one and all.
Inter-related Wisdom through the Ages
“Omnia vivunt, omnia inter se conexa”
(Everything is alive; everything is interconnected.)
Cicero (first century, BCE)
Teach your children what we have taught our children — that the Earth is our Mother. Whatever befalls the Earth befalls the sons and daughters of the Earth. If men spit upon the ground, they spit upon themselves. This we know: The Earth does not belong to us, we belong to the Earth. This we know: All things are connected like the blood that unites one family. All things are connected. Whatever befalls the Earth befalls the sons and daughters of the Earth. We did not weave the web of life; we are merely a strand in it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves.
Chief Seattle (1780-1866 CE)
“A human being is a part of the whole, called by us Universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest — a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole nature in its beauty.”
Albert Einstein (1879 – 1955)
You are me, and I am you. Isn’t it obvious that we “inter-are”?
Tich Nhat Hanh (contemporary Vietnamese Buddhist teacher and author; nominated by Martin Luther King Jr. for the Nobel Peace Prize)
[The following is taken from Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”, written in response to criticism that he was an ‘outside agitator’ who should stay home.]
“I am cognisant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly…”
Martin Luther King Jr. (1929 – 1968)