Interdependence: Key to Compassion, Key to Today’s Physics

Mother Earth deserves an ecological spirituality and basic to that spirituality is compassion understood as interdependence and justice making.

Community members grab free food from a food bank outside of Christ Embassy Church in Boyle Heights, Los Angeles. Photo by Chava Sanchez from Where To Get Financial Assistance, Food And More During The Coronavirus Crisis,

Compassion as feeling sorry for others is explicitly rejected in creation theology precisely because in a panentheistic worldview there is no “other.” God is not other, and we are not other to one another. Surely this is Jesus’ lesson when he told his disciples that to clothe the naked is to clothe him and to feed the hungry is to feed him. Panentheistic thinking requires a consciousness of interdependence. Such a consciousness is a consciousness of compassion.

Ordained members of the Earth Holder Sangha wearing brown robes carry banner and practice mindful walking in the People’s Climate March, 2017. Quote from Thich Nhat Hanh reads, “The future of all life depends on our mindful steps.” Photo by Dcpeopleandeventsof2017 on Wikimedia Commons

It is striking that today’s post-modern science has recovered the principle of interdependence or what Thich Naht Hanh calls interbeing that is very much a mystical awareness.

Meister Eckhart captures this sense of interdependence when he says, “Whatever happens to another, whether it be a joy or a sorrow, happens to me.” And again he says, “All creatures are interdependent.”

Hildegard also underscores the interdependence of creation when she writes:

Everything that is in the heavens, on the earth, and under the earth is penetrated with connectedness, penetrated with relatedness.

Eckhart builds on this notion of relatedness everywhere when he says that relation is the essence of everything that exists—not substance, not thingness, but relation. Compassion is about struggling to right relationships. Hildegard believes that “creation blooms and flourishes when it remains in right relationship and keeps to its assigned tasks.”

“Lady Justice” by visual artist Kim Vanderheiden, removing the traditional blindfold and sword to offer a more compassionate icon. Published in the PISLAP Quarterly newsletter.

If compassion is first of all an awareness of the interconnectedness of all things, then it is also about the struggle for justice or for seeing the balance of things restored when it is lost. Meister Eckhart says simply, drawing from the Jewish prophetic tradition, “Compassion means justice.”

And Mechtild of Magdeburg also links compassion to justice in an explicit fashion:

If you love the justice of Jesus Christ more than you fear human judgment then you will seek to do compassion. Compassion means that if I see my friend and my enemy in equal need, I shall help both equally. Justice demands that we seek and find the stranger, the broken, the prisoner and comfort them and offer them our help. Here lies the holy compassion of God.

“The Good Samaritan” by Vincent Van Gogh. In the Kröller-Müller Museum; on Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain.

For all of these creation mystics, compassion is the work of the Holy Spirit, for as Eckhart puts it, “the first outburst of whatever God does is always compassion.”

Compassion then is our origin and our destiny.

It is also the Holy Spirit at work, as Mechtild says:

Who is the Holy Spirit? The Holy Spirit is a compassionate outpouring of the Creator and the Son. This is why when we on earth pour out compassion and mercy from the depths of our hearts and give to the poor and dedicate our bodies to the service of the broken, to that extent so we resemble the Holy Spirit.

Adapted from: Matthew Fox, Wrestling with the Prophets, pp. 96-97.

Banner Image: “Christ of the Breadlines” by Fritz Eichenberg for The Catholic Worker. Uploaded to Flickr by Jim Forest

Queries for Contemplation

Do you think of justice and compassion as being synonyms?  What difference does that make to the journey you are on?

Do you recognize the Holy Spirit at work in your and others’ work of service and compassion?

Recommended Reading

Responses are welcomed. To add your comment, please click HERE or scroll to the bottom of the page.

Share this meditation


Daily Meditations with Matthew Fox is made possible through the generosity of donors. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation

Search Meditations





Receive our daily meditations

11 thoughts on “Interdependence: Key to Compassion, Key to Today’s Physics”

  1. Carol Kilby

    The science of Corona emphasizes interdependence extends to the non human Earth community. Grief, at the death of those we know and don’t know, expresses this undeniable reality. Social distancing — does it acknowledge or deny this?

    1. Avatar

      There is no such thing as separation. All is One, so physical distance is never a barrier to connection.

    2. Gail Sofia Ransom

      Dear Carol,
      Once again, you ask an exquisite question. I am noticing that social distancing gives us enough distance to notice how closely intertwined our lives are. I think it also helps us appreciate touch as a precious human expression because we are so rarely able to embrace or even share a smile from underneath the creases of our face masks.
      Gail Sofia Ransom
      For the Daily Meditation Team

  2. Avatar
    Anne Marie Raftery

    Thomas Merton’s quote, “Compassion is the working out of our interdependence”, gives me hope that as we experience Covid-19 Pandemic, we are also consciously or maybe imperceptibly becoming a world of greater human-interdependence! Hope springs eternal….

    1. Gail Sofia Ransom

      Thank you, Anne Marie. I am sure your sentiments are shared by many of the people who participate in these meditations. Some would also include our interdependence with plants, animals, rivers,and soil. The Corona crisis is making us all step back to see the web of life as an intricate connector within the entire Earth community.
      Gail Sofia Ransom
      For the Daily Meditation Team

  3. Avatar

    The struggle then is to hold compassion for everyone even those deemed destructive or against the very notion of it, as an example or current President.

    1. Gail Sofia Ransom

      Dear Mary, Your words are wise.

      It turns out that it is we who need to change our hearts to evolve into the beloved community, rather than have those we see as evil and destructive. And this must be a conscious choice. We are not wired for this.

      Self righteousness and condemnation only entrench duality. It’s not easy, but whenever I step back far enough to realize the hate I have towards those who I consider to be hateful, I realize that I have plenty of vicious venom of my own. But when I am able to open my heart to those I judge as evil, I feel myself adding to the healing of humanity.
      Gail Sofia Ransom
      For the Daily Meditation Team

  4. Avatar

    I believe it was Dr. Daniel Siegel who teaches his classes the word mewee. That is me plus you plus you equals mewee. It’s great to think that college kids are learning about this interdependence at a regular University.

    1. Gail Sofia Ransom

      Dear Taj,
      This is indeed good to hear. I might add the emerging use of plural pronouns to refer to individuals as well as groups. (they instead of he or she, and their or them instead of him or her) Could the evolution of our language be expressing our path towards oneness?

      First United Methodist Church in Pittsburgh, PA has decided to use the pronoun they for God, instead of him, her, or it. This was chosen as much for respect for gender diversity in the community as for highlighting the multiplicity of genders present in the Divine Whole. Change creates new language, and new language creates change.
      Gail Sofia Ransom
      For the Daily Meditation Team

  5. Avatar

    amen!!!!! thx matthew for a great meditation. just ordered the tao of aquinas. saw/hear yr lecture in the early 90″s at fountain st. church in my town grand rapids mi! wedn was the best earth day zoom meeting ever! i lead a jazz piano trio here for years now. if u want to hear me free go to johnsheatrio( one word ) at soundcloud or my FB page the grand rapids mi “john shea” w/the pink oval cartoon. god bless you matthew and your wonderful friends!-john shea

Leave a Comment

To help moderate the volume of responses, the Comment field is limited to 1500 characters (roughly 300 words), with one comment per person per day.

Please keep your comments focused on the topic of the day's Meditation.

As always, we look forward to your comments!!
The Daily Meditation Team

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Join us in meditation that supports your compassionate action

Receive Matthew Fox's Daily Meditation by subscribing below: