Harrowing Of Hell
May 26, 2024

Holy Holon: Entangled in the Spirit

The Rev. Doyt L. Conn, Jr.

To watch the sermon click here.

I’m glad to be back. I just returned from a big family vacation to Belize. Kristin and I celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary this year. Our son Desmond turned 20 this year. Our daughter Margaret turned 25. So, we decided to take a family vacation to someplace fancy and far away. Somehow Belize became our destination. 

There’s so much to say about Belize. It is beautiful. The people are gracious. I love the food. The weather is awesome, and the water is warm and clear. 

And I found it to be a place of contrasts, as well. There were times when I would see something that confounded me. I’d look and I’d look again… Did I just see that?  What was that about? Have you ever had that experience? When you see something or hear something, and you’re like “That was too weird. I don’t get it.” 

And I’m not talking about language confusion. I’m talking about a complete lack of my capacity to understand a perspective behind an action that I witness. Maybe you know what I mean? If you watch the news you certainly do. Sometimes I’ll hear an interview, or watch a panel discussion, and be completely befuddled by a perspective. 

I had one of those befuddlement moments when I was in Belize. We were driving down the very narrow, rather bumpy road, in our golf cart. If you like golf carts, but don’t like to golf, Belize is the place for you. That’s the primary mode of transportation on San Pedro Island where we were. 

There was a man standing outside of a resort. He had on a uniform. I assumed he was a security guard. Just as we were approaching he was taking the final swig of something in a plastic bottle. And, then, with an arching motion, launched that plastic bottle into the ditch. As I watched it roll to its final resting place, I was like, “Did that just happen? Why did that just happen?” I was befuddled, confounded.

Now there is a lot of trash by the side of the road in San Pedro. Never did I see a trash truck, nor did I see people picking it up. And I couldn’t help but think: “What if that security guard had that job for the rest of his life? How many bottles would accrue in that ditch. One a day? Three a day?” It’s a hot climate. Do the math. For me, it didn’t add up. The numbers got pretty big, pretty fast…soon my head couldn’t hold them.

So, I shifted my befuddled contemplation to context imagination.  I sought the framework of empathy to make sense of what I saw. Who is this man? Is he educated? Does he have a family?  Has he ever left the island of San Pedro? Who has he seen throw an empty plastic bottle into a ditch? Father? Friend? Family member? Priest?

I simply sought to put myself in his shoes… and I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t get my mind around the bottle flip. Full confession–I do not have the capacity to understand his point of view. Particularly regarding litter. I do not have the capacity to be empathetic to that particular action. I do not get it. It confounded me.

Have you ever had a situation like that? Where you are completely befuddled; where you couldn’t get your mind around something that you saw, or something you heard?

In the end, the closest I could get to understanding why a person would throw an empty plastic bottle into a ditch near where they have to stand day in and day out, maybe for the rest of their life… the closest I could get was that his was an action of habitual thoughtlessness. It’s just something he does. I mean he wasn’t even trying to hit a tree. It wasn’t even target practice. It was a thoughtless habitual action. 

And while his thoughtless action confounds me, where he and I are alike, it turns out, is there are thoughtless habitual actions that I, myself, participate in.  

I know, that was a long story to get to that revelation. That I, Doyt Conn, participate in habitual, thoughtless actions. Could have saved time by starting right here, given that this revelation is actually not a revelation at all.

And so, what comes out of this thought exercise, inspired by a man in Belize, standing in front of a hotel, discarding a plastic bottle into a ditch, is that he and I are connected, not by activity, not by intellectual imagination, not by background, or perspective, but by our thoughtless habits.  That is a little depressing.  Connected by thoughtlessness.

The important thing here is connectedness. He and I are connected. We live in a world that is inextricably interconnected. Physicists call it entanglement. Theologians call it pantheism. 

The “interconnected levels of networks,” writes author Arthur Koestler, “constitute a web of life wherein systems interact with other systems forming networks within networks.” Sort of like Russian dolls. Sort of like fractals. Koestler calls these systems within systems holons, which are defined as something that is simultaneously a whole and a part. 

Like that hotel security guard in Belize; simultaneously a whole, complete, functioning vital person, and a part; a part of a community, a part of an environment, a part of the world. 

And he and I are connected. I am a holon as well, full and complete in my anonymity, and also a part connected to him, to you, to the air we breathe, and the cosmos in which we sit, to the past, and to the future, as well.

And that reality is hard to feel. It is hard to feel like a part, when we mostly feel like the whole thing. When we primarily feel complete, and at the center of it all. That is our primary perspective, because our sightline starts right here (eyes) which gives the illusion of being at the center of the universe. 

And so, where befuddlement crops up inevitably is when we see someone else as a part at a moment in time, when they are acting as if they are the whole thing, and not a part of a bigger picture.The security guard punctuates the  point. Befuddlement crops up when we can’t see how they don’t see this.

The apostle Paul in his letter to the Romans can be helpful today. And I quote: “If you live according to the flesh you will die; but if you live by the Spirit you will put to death deeds of the body and you will live.”

Let me say that another way: “If you live according with yourself as the center, as the whole, you will die; but if you live with yourself as a part of the whole, and you will live.”

The Spirit is our interconnectedness, marking us as part of the eternal whole. Our body, on the other hand, places us at the center of the whole thing, which is a place with an inevitable end.

Here is the blessing of the Belize bottle befuddlement: not that I could understand the man who thoughtlessly launched a plastic bottle into a ditch, but the insight that I do the same thing; that I participate in a series of actions done thoughtlessly and habitually from a bodily self-centeredness…which puts me at risk of missing the more interesting perspective as part of the whole, eternal Spirit.

And so I wonder…What bottle am I holding? What bottle am I tossing? The swipe of a credit card? The scraping of excess food into the trash?  Taking a 20-minute shower? Buying another book? Using my leaf blower or my weed whacker? I wonder?

And so, I leave you now looking at your hand and wondering what bottle are you holding; what actions do you participate in that are habitually thoughtless; habits that emanate from yourself as the center rather than yourself as part of the whole, eternal Spirit of God?