Parts of a Whole | by Holly Hudley

Bach is in my living room. Really. He is. The notes of his Cello Suite No. 4 float off the record and dissipate into my space. He wrote the suites around 1720. Pablo Casals recorded this version in 1936. In 2018 they are both here with me. Sometimes I turn the records up really loud, lay on the floor, close my eyes, and listen. 

Dust glints in the light offered through the window, elegant in its slow drift. What particles of life, ancient and new, come with it? I am trying to remember Bill’s exact words to me in a recent conversation: “Everything is happening everywhere all the time.” We are stardust, we are dinosaur bones, we are Bach’s cello suites, we are our past, current, and future selves. We are  everywhere, all the time. 

I wonder what would be possible between us if we thought of ourselves like grains of sand - each distinct but part of a greater body. A single grain makes no noticeable difference, but together they make a beach, an ocean floor, rocks, minerals, and mountains. If grains of sand could talk they would look at each other and say to the ten grains of sand on either side of them, “I can’t make this beach without you.” That little murmur would spread in all directions from Mexico to Texas to the tip of the Florida Peninsula. On and on it would go. The sand does not know whether it is Mexican or Floridian. What could we learn from them, where each one matters as much as the whole?

It would be a small miracle if we really got that, if we realized we are distinct but not separate. It is true in the universe of our body. Each part, from the skin cells to the organs to the blood and oxygen flow, must work uniquely as well as in tandem to keep us alive. If we are small holograms of the universe itself, this must also be true on a cosmic level. Consider for a minute the possibility that folks like “the Buddha and Jesus, while separated by language, geography, and five centuries, are nevertheless deeply connected in the spiritual world, and devoted collaboratively to the evolution of humanity” (from Robert McDermott’s book Steiner and Kindred Spirits). Again I wonder, if we saw ourselves as part of everything everywhere all the time, what could we do? We just might change the world. 

  from Molly Gochman’s Red Sands installation at IAH:    www.mollygochman.com

from Molly Gochman’s Red Sands installation at IAH: www.mollygochman.com

Lean Forward | by Holly Hudley

On a monthly basis I participate in a conversation with projectCURATE striving to build toward racial justice. It is a Leader-full organization with some of the most brilliant and passionate minds I’ve been around. To learn more, I encourage you to visit the website here and consider joining us. 

Anyhow, this semester we are reading Emergent Strategy by adrienne maree brown. It is, for all intents and purposes, a work of autocosmology. She explores the ways in which parts work together to create a unified whole, both in nature and in community. She borrows the mathematical concept of fractals, defined as “a curve or geometric figure, each part of which has the same statistical character as the whole. Fractals are useful in modeling structures (such as eroded coastlines or snowflakes) in which similar patterns recur at progressively smaller scales, and in describing partly random or chaotic phenomena such as crystal growth, fluid turbulence, and galaxy formation.” 

Fractals, then, are everywhere. Think of the fern, a dandelion, a succulent, a cauliflower, a snail shell. . .It’s got me wondering: Are human beings a kind of fractal? We are geometrically and biologically similar, from the smallest to the largest one of us. We are individual forms -  my sense of “I” is separate from “you” - but I could not exist without you. We are separate, but we are also one. The word fractal originates from the Latin: frangere, meaning “to break, to crush.” Fractal means broken. 

I think of the concept of Tikkun Olam, in which it is said we were once all part of a single ball of light. That light exploded, breaking into trillions of tiny pieces, individual and separate in their new nature. In that fractured existence, the only way back to unity is through healing the heart of the world. So it is true for us: the only way back to our wholeness is through first recognizing we are broken apart, and then doing the work to heal those broken spaces. Fractals make beautiful patterns when they are pieced back together. If we are like dandelions, blown apart in the form of a wish, then each seed drifts in the wind, and eventually roots and grows into a new dandelion, a new potential wish. Each part has the capacity to grow an entirely new whole. Though I am not finished with the book, my so far sense is that we are being lead to ask ourselves what is our unique part in creating a whole world in which we wish to live? 

I closed my eyes last Saturday at CURATE and listened to Maya Angelou’s recorded voice read part of her poem “On the Pulse of Morning.” These words floated out to me:

The horizon leans forward

(un)wedded to fear.

lean forward.

Take it into the palms of your hands.

Lean.

Forward.

Mold

Sculpt

Lift

Pulse

Lean.

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Bodies are Sacred | by Holly Hudley

Over the weekend I got into a conversation with a really brilliant woman about what it might mean to be human right now, in this moment. If you heard Sister Ilia Delio speak a few years ago, you might remember her saying that in the 14 billion year unfolding of our planet, humans are the last word of an incomplete sentence in the last volume of history. We are a blip. We are babies in this whole evolutionary cycle. And yet we are conscious enough to actually understand deep time. While I take solace in knowing everything comes from something and evolution is unfinished, in knowing that I am a small part of something so vast, it is also troubling to grapple with purpose. As far as we know we are the only sentient creatures who use symbolic consciousness to make art and tell stories. It doesn’t mean we are necessarily superior, but it might mean we are called to use our consciousness in an intentional way. Maybe we are called to observe and record so that we can transform. 

If asked, I think most conscious beings have an opinion about how they want their bodies to be treated. Think even of the animal who bites back if it is abused. This is a form of protest. We don’t have an agreed upon ethic that all bodies deserve the utmost care, so it remains in the fuzzy arena of personal morality. In many cultures women’s bodies have varying degrees of say so in how they want to be treated. I read an article that labeled the #MeToo movement a feminist liberal agenda...as if only liberal women get raped, assaulted, or molested. We’ve just witnessed an incredibly intelligent woman be dismissed and even ridiculed for having the audacity to speak the truth about her body. She should have been championed. Not only because she spoke up 30 years later, but also because she kicked out and protested when she was first assaulted. Instead at least 51% of our governing body dismissed her experience as untrue or unimportant. She wanted her body to be dignified, and it was not. It is the same, I think, with black bodies. Our democracy was founded on harm done (first) to indigenous and (second) to African bodies. Poet and Playwright Claudia Rankine asked her friend what it’s like being the mother of a black son. “The condition of black life is one of mourning,” she said. That resonates with me. Though I am not black, I am raising biracial sons. As a woman I know the feeling of not having a total say in how my body is treated (I don’t know very many men who walk down the street and get unsolicited catcalls), but as a white person I do not live in fear of being suspect. I don’t want to create that fear in my sons, but I must also live in reality. A reality that too often falls short of our best hope. I want my boys to have a say so in how their bodies are treated, but I am aware that they might not always be afforded that dignity. The onus will be on them to have a stronger sense of self than anyone who might disparage them. A black man in America knows what’s at stake if he even remotely loses his cool with an unkind policeman. A woman in America knows what’s at stake if she wears a skirt too short. “They had it coming,” we will say. It shouldn’t be this way. 

The bodies we are given are our sacred forms. I don’t mean this in a puritanical, “don’t have sex before marriage” kind of way, but as an echo of the Aristotelian view of form. Aristotle is in a long line of philosophers who believe the soul is of the sacred “whole” that gives our bodies life. Call it stardust, call it God, call it cosmos, but without this little bit of the divine in us, our “essence” as it were, we would not know to seek our truest selves. Each and every body, then, deserves to be seen as sacred. Every time we disparage or harm a person’s body, we are dismissing part of their essence. 

In his time, Teilhard de Chardin understood the universe to be both spiritual and physical.  Matter cannot exist without form, and form is always spiritual. To be human is to have a form, what we call our body. Thus, our bodies are always spiritual.

What will make this truth matter to all of us? What will recall us to the very essence of being human?

At this point in time it is not enough to be non racist. We are called to be anti racist.

It is not enough to live on the earth. We must see ourselves as part of the earth.

It is not enough to have a body. We must love our body and speak from its essence. 

  These are the bodies I honor today.

These are the bodies I honor today.