We’re going to hear a lot about our independence this weekend, which is good. It’s also good to take some time to appreciate our interdependence as well. Those two things are closely intertwined, just like all of us. Neither one can exist apart from the other.
Everything that we do, everything that we have, all that we are bears the fingerprints of countless others from around the world who have brought us to this moment and sustain us in it.
We tend to overlook that fact. I know I do. I prefer to think of myself as independent. It’s certainly “safer” to go that way than to make myself vulnerable and acknowledge my dependence upon so many others for so much. I prefer to feel like I’m in control of my life when, in fact, that’s only half of the truth.
I think we all dread those times when we feel dependent, when we’re sick or struggling and need some sort of assistance. We’d rather do it ourselves. We prefer to feel like we’re living independently, even though that is never the case.
If we think about our day for even a few seconds, we’re reminded of just how much we depend upon others for pretty much everything.
We woke up this morning in a bed that someone else made. We showered in water that someone else delivered to our homes, which someone else also built. We dressed in clothes that are the work of others’ hands. We ate a meal that someone else grew, harvested, shipped, inspected and prepared. We got into our car or boarded a bus that others engineered, built, and tested for safety. We rode along roads that others designed and maintained … And on and on.
In every moment of every day, we are affected by the lives of so many others from around the planet. Others who live in different countries and follow different religions and different social norms.
We’re also intertwined with our planet. That breath we are taking right now is possible because of all the plants making oxygen. Our food and our water are provided by the earth. And on and on.
Everyone and everything is interconnected. The creator made it so.
Recognizing our connectedness is at the heart of our religious traditions. The creation stories locate us within a diverse web of life. They put us in relationship with each other and with everything that’s in the world – it’s never good to think of ourselves as being alone.
One touchstone prayer refers to God as our parent, not just my parent. And it asks our creator to give us our daily bread. To forgive us. Lead us. Deliver us. There’s not a single mention of “me” or “my” or “I” in the prayer.
And it concludes with a collective amen, an affirmation that we’re all in this together.
It can’t be any other way. Actual religion has love at its heart, and love by definition always requires connection. It’s lived and expressed within the context of relationship to someone and something other than ourselves. It’s always plural.
Compassion, love, forgiveness, kindness, creativity, healing — all of the divine qualities within us draw us deeper into our interdependence. By embracing it, we embrace the one who wants us to be as one.
The more we try to imagine ourselves as independent of others — other people, other countries, other religions — the less we are able to love and to live together peacefully. We know from experience how self-interest subverts any society, any government, any religion. We stop thinking about the common good — about the we — and we ignore our deep, divine need for each other.
The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. reminded us beautifully how “all life is interrelated.”
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” he wrote in his Letter from Birmingham Jail. “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
As we celebrate our independence together, it’s fitting that we also remember the blessing of our interdependence. We can be thankful that we have the freedom to care for each other, the liberty to love one other.