Radical Connectivity

painting of earth by Hildegard of Bingen

At some churches, the Sunday service omits scripture and hardly mentions God. Yet God is most certainly there, in the hearts of those taking in a consistent message of love, feeling hardness give way to greater generosity, opening to a universal message: love as much as you can, as often as you can, with as many people as you can, for the rest of your life.

I’m reminded of a service I attended a few years ago at a Unitarian Universalist church. I’d known about UU from my formation as a spiritual director, through some of my classmates, and I was curious, but not enough to go to one of their services. What brought me to a UU service that day was music – specifically, a piece called Spiritus Sanctus, written by Ruth MacKenzie, that explores the intersection between Hindu and Christian mystics. A co-worker, who is in the choir, told me about the piece, saying the entire choir was transported by the music during the rehearsal. I wanted to be transported, too.

As it turns out, the entire service, not just the music, took me to a different place that felt oddly familiar. From the beginning, when the senior minister affirmed who the church was (people who are united in spirit and accepting of differences), I felt very much at home. The ministers used language I might have, had I been at the podium.

And the music? Spectacular. My only disappointment was that there wasn’t more of it. Two worlds merged – a Western voice represented by Hildegard of Bingen‘s text and Ruth MacKenzie’s music, and a Hindu voice represented by Nirmala Rajeskar, a world-renowned veena artist and vocalist.

painting of Hildegard of Bingen
Hildegard of Bingen
Nirmala Rajasekar, vocalist and veena artist
Nirmala Rajasekar

In the program Spiritus Sanctus was described as exploring “the common experience of radical connectivity shared by mystics around the world.” The love and the longing in that piece transcended human constructs – geography, religion, language – and allowed each of us in the church to see through the eyes of mystics.

Through these eyes I’m thinking about church as more than a building, and more even than the community of people who frequent it. I have referred to the Episcopal church as “my” church, but from the perspective of radical connectivity, “my” church is wherever I go. Perhaps the reason I felt so much at home in a church I was visiting for the first time is that I brought my church with me. Wherever I am is my place of worship. I need nothing but love to feel connected with others, for all of my days here on earth.

painting of earth by Hildegard of Bingen
Vision of the Earth, by Hildegard of Bingen


Re-frame Your Experiences

Sky Pesher by James Turrell

Re-framing an experience opens us to a different perspective.

For example, contrast the sky seen from the plains in “Big Sky” Montana with the sky seen from the ceiling of James Turrell’s Sky Pesher. It’s the same sky. Yet, the experience is dramatically different. In Montana, the sky overwhelms us, tells us we’re small and almost insignificant. Sitting in Sky Pesher, looking up at a ceiling with a square hole, we see the sky as something almost touchable. There’s something about that cool, contemplative space, that quiets the mind and removes much of the distance between the ephemeral human and eternity.

Yasmil Raymond writes that the Sky Pesher “creates the illusion that the architecture of the space slowly vanishes as it becomes saturated with light and color, making it appear infinitely deep and closer to us.” Turrell, a master of light, refers to this as “bringing the sky down.”

As we go about our daily lives, doing things as mundane as taking out the garbage or sitting in traffic, we have the option of framing each experience from a spiritual perspective. It’s far more interesting to ask the question, “What is God asking me to notice right now?” than to get snagged by boredom or frustration and wallow in “Why is this happening to me?”

Our whole life experience can be seen from a spiritual perspective. There may be times when the Spirit feels more palpable – in church, when we pray, when we sit with a loved one who is dying. Our lives, especially as we age, feel enormous. Still, we can frame a piece of those vast experiences from a spiritual perspective, bringing us closer to the divine.

What do you think: Are we merely humans trying to be spiritual? Or are we spiritual beings living a human experience?

I invite you to ponder those questions while watching this MPR video of Cantus singing in Sky Pesher at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis.