Reviews for Heart of Oneness

This meditation by a British Quaker may be modest in size, but the subject it addresses is a dauntingly ambitious one; in fact it’s one that could risk a bit of superficiality: the paradox of a world of incredible diversity in creative tension with a mutual interconnectedness. The author wisely does not attempt a head-on tackle of this matter that such volumes have been written about, but merely invites us to think with her about where within ourselves we can learn to find underlying unity. “It is this series of paradoxes that this book will seek to address.”

As the narrative gets underway, her detailed review of the wide reach of this dividedness in the world (colonialism, nationalism, segregation, injustices, social divisions, prejudice, thoughtless exploitation of the environment, and more) could tempt the reader to think, “All right, I really don’t need to be reminded once again of all the world’s familiar disconnections,” but Kavanagh soon begins to introduce examples of the underlying unity shining through in endeavors such as the United Nations and European Union, Alternatives to Violence Programs, and a long list of others down to the personal level. And this is only the beginning: her sweeping journey through various challenges to recognize connectedness also includes learning “shared creatureliness” with other animals, another—by way of the challenge of sustainability—of our relationships to the planet, and our “vertical” oneness across time, manifested compellingly in care for future generations.

Then, as a step toward understanding this tugging of opposites, she brings in the incredible diversity of the natural world, and reminds us of our all-too-recent—and still far from complete—realization that all this is interconnected down to the last atom (in fact, “interconnectedness” shows signs of becoming a fashionable buzzword). The question, as she has posed at the outset, is how then do we find our way to this same unity in our social world? Here we deal with the time dimension just mentioned, and even more strongly with the space dimension. The connectedness we experience in various ways (group performance, Skype, group meditation, and so on) is a “field” that surrounds us, and Friends’ meeting for worship stands for us as a potent distillation of this. It is this consciousness of others’ inner lives and minds that makes for depth of worship. We are seeking unity in the Divine, and this leads the author to the final step (I’ve been rearranging her thoughts a bit to reflect my perception of how one idea develops into another).

God is often defined as no more but also no less than the pure relational act itself: God is “the ultimate oneness,” and oneness with God is oneness with all being. So we need to find oneness with our true self, and finding unity means becoming a unity within ourselves. How do we do this? “Living within ourselves requires allowing enough space … for the Spirit to enter in.” We hold within ourselves balances of disconnection such as light–dark and diversity–unity, and balance is at the core of a unified life. My finding oneness in the world must inevitably be preceded by finding oneness in myself. She reminds us that this—formulated in endless different ways—is to be found at the center of all religious traditions.

But achieving a glimpse of the oneness at the heart of existence and then in oneself is not really the goal here, but merely the gateway to insight. The really crucial step each one of us must take is discerning how this insight guides our living and acting in the world. Within the cramped space of only 66 pages, Friend Kavanagh’s meditation offers a direction.

 

The Universalist, reviewed by (Dorothy Buglass

Those of our readers who already know Jennifer Kavanagh’s work will be pleased to see a new publication. This short book is an essay on interconnectedness and is intended in as an antidote to the depressing news we see on our screens every day. She writes: We need to remember that alongside the horrors there exists a parallel reality of compassion, love, daily acts of kindness and selflessness, expressions of what we know in our hearts to be the true: our essential interconnectedness. Most of the ills of the world stem from our departure from this reality.

In 10 chapters she explores the political and personal implications of interconnectedness. She describes how when she first volunteered for a homeless project she was sent on a tea run. She was nervous: I walked over to a young man in a sleeping bag and asked if he would like a cup of tea or coffee and whether he took sugar. I found myself forming a relationship with another human being. Instead of passing a bundle in a doorway with embarrassment and guilt, I was doing something, however small, and my preconceptions fell away. It was an epiphany, and I realised in that moment that that bundle in the doorway could have been me. She notes that genetically we are more connected than we realise. Going back only 600 years, the common ancestry of Europeans can be traced to a single individual. Looking beyond the human species, the natural world has numerous examples of mutuality. Indeed, DNA shows that the composition of the human body is remarkably similar to the earth’s crust. Given these connections is it not in order for us to respond to the world and to others with a sense of love and kinship? Going beyond the material to the inner world, Kavanagh notes the commonality of faith expressed by many writers, especially in relation to mystical experience, a fact noted by the Quaker, William Penn in the 17th century: The humble, meek, merciful, just, pious, and devout souls are everywhere of one religion, and when death has taken off the mask they will know one another, though the divers liveries they wear here makes them strangers. She concludes: From religion, in science, and from our own daily experience we can see that separation and division are human distortions.

The book is unashamedly partisan. Although the author recognises that there is much in human life and history that emphasises the contrary, our competiveness and tribalism, she wishes us to turn in a different direction. Maybe if enough of us turned the world might become a happier and more generous place. Such an attitude is not unfamiliar in Quaker circles, though the sceptic may say that only a few have ever been convinced. Kavanagh counters this with the observation: The first thing to recognise is that there is no such thing as a small piece of work. . . . . All we can do and are, I believe, asked to do is inform ourselves and to foster love in our hearts and actions.

The sentiments expressed in this book are unlikely to surprise universalists though they may appreciate their clear and well-written presentation. The ideal audience would be those who have never questioned the divisions of species, religion and nationality which separate us and who might be prepared to look afresh at the values they hold.