Community, Compassion, and Today’s Post-Modern Science

Cosmologist Brian Swimme tells us that the great news of our time is the evolutionary story in which we come to realize that we humans are all embedded in a living, developing universe, and that we are therefore cousins to everything in the universe.

The history of nature from the Big Bang to the present day. Every billion years (Ga) is represented by 90 degrees of rotation of the spiral. Image by Pablo Carlos Budassi and Professor Rasmus Grønfeldt Winther, on Wikimedia Commons.

If we are cousins, we are already community. Creation is not a box in which we find ourselves, it is more of a verb, an ongoing drama wherein all the players are sacred, interacting with one another and creating anew their roles and relationships.

Swimme tells us:

The universe is not a collection of dead objects but is, rather, a seamless whole community made up of cosmos-related subjects.  

This is especially clear in our Earth community where “every living being of earth is cousin to every other living being.” 

Scientist Fritjof Capra calls ecosystems “sustainable communities of plants, animals, and microorganisms.  Partnership or pervasive cooperation” has made ecosystems work over a period of two billion years.  


Atitlan Organics
introduces David Holmgren’s 12 principles of permaculture design, adapting natural processes to develop interdependent ecosystems for human and wildlife sustenance.

“Feedback loops” lead to recycling and “communities of organisms have evolved in this way over billions of years, continually using and recycling the same molecules of minerals, water, and air.”  In contrast, human industrial systems are linear and waste becomes endless. 

“The web of life is a flexible, ever-fluctuating network,” says Capra:

the success of the whole community depends on the success of its individual members, while the success of each member depends on the success of the community as a whole.

To speak of interdependence is to speak of compassion.  To say that interdependence is everywhere on earth and in the cosmos is to say that compassion is everywhere on earth and in the cosmos for compassion is the working out of our interdependence.  As Meister Eckhart put it, “what happens to another, whether it be a joy or a sorrow, happens to me.”  Or as Jesus put it, “do it to the least and you do it to me.”  (See Matthew 25)

What if the living beings of our planet aren’t all unique individual organisms? What if they’re all extensions of the Earth as one superorganism? Could we all be a part of our planet’s life-support system? Video by What If.

And as Catholic monk Thomas Merton put it in a talk delivered three hours before he died:

The whole idea of compassion is based on a keen awareness of the interdependence of all these living beings which are all part of one another and all involved in one another.

The universe is more full of compassion than we ever imagined.  No wonder Meister Eckhart can say that “the first outburst of everything God does is compassion.”   


Adapted from Matthew Fox, “Community and Interdependence,” in Fox, One River, Many Wells: Wisdom Springing from Global Faiths, pp. 82-84.  

And Matthew Fox, Passion for Creation: The Earth-Honoring Spirituality of Meister Eckhart, pp. 441f.  

And Matthew Fox, A Spirituality Named Compassion.

To read the transcript of Matthew Fox’s video teaching, click HERE.

Banner Image: Coral Reef Ecosystem. Photo by Baltic SDGs on Flickr.

Queries for Contemplation

Do you see the post-modern theme of Interdependence ushering in a time of compassion?  What does it take to turn interdependence into habits or values of cooperation and compassion?


Recommended Reading

One River, Many Wells: Wisdom Springing from Global Faiths

Matthew Fox calls on all the world traditions for their wisdom and their inspiration in a work that is far more than a list of theological position papers but a new way to pray—to meditate in a global spiritual context on the wisdom all our traditions share. Fox chooses 18 themes that are foundational to any spirituality and demonstrates how all the world spiritual traditions offer wisdom about each.“Reading One River, Many Wells is like entering the rich silence of a masterfully directed retreat. As you read this text, you reflect, you pray, you embrace Divinity. Truly no words can fully express my respect and awe for this magnificent contribution to contemporary spirituality.” –Caroline Myss, author of Anatomy of the Spirit

Passion for Creation: The Earth-Honoring Spirituality of Meister Eckhart

Matthew Fox’s comprehensive translation of Meister Eckhart’s sermons is a meeting of true prophets across centuries, resulting in a spirituality for the new millennium. The holiness of creation, the divine life in each person and the divine power of our creativity, our call to do justice and practice compassion–these are among Eckhart’s themes, brilliantly interpreted and explained for today’s reader.
“The most important book on mysticism in 500 years.”  — Madonna Kolbenschlag, author of Kissing Sleeping Beauty Goodbye.  

A Spirituality Named Compassion: Uniting Mystical Awareness with Social Justice

In A Spirituality Named Compassion, Matthew Fox delivers a profound exploration of the meaning and practice of compassion. Establishing a spirituality for the future that promises personal, social, and global healing, Fox marries mysticism with social justice, leading the way toward a gentler and more ecological spirituality and an acceptance of our interdependence which is the substratum of all compassionate activity.
“Well worth our deepest consideration…Puts compassion into its proper focus after centuries of neglect.” –The Catholic Register


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10 thoughts on “Community, Compassion, and Today’s Post-Modern Science”

  1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
    Richard Reich-Kuykendall

    Matthew, You ask us two questions in our Queries for Contemplation today. They are: “Do you see the post-modern theme of Interdependence ushering in a time of compassion? I couldn’t have said it any better than
    you already have done: “To speak of interdependence is to speak of compassion. To say that interdependence is everywhere on earth and in the cosmos is to say that compassion is everywhere on earth and in the cosmos for compassion is the working out of our interdependence.” I think these things “can” usher in a time of compassion, “but” that is purely dependent on us–meanings all of us in the whole world–working together interdependently. In times past some Christians, called “Millennialists” spoke of a time when a thousand years of peace would reign on earth before the END came!
    Then you ask, “What does it take to turn interdependence into habits or values of cooperation and compassion?”
    I believe that Capra said it best in our meditation for the day: “the success of the whole community depends on the success of its individual members, while the success of each member depends on the success of the community as a whole.” In other words, if we are going to survive, we are going to have to be interdependent as communities. While Thomas Merton said, “The whole idea of compassion is based on a keen awareness of the interdependence of all these living beings which are all part of one another and all involved in one another.

  2. Avatar

    The substance (soul) of all created form is co-extensively inseparable from God as one; or stated scientifically, is created and exists other than part of a unified field of energy forces. That substance, or unified field of forces, otherwise known as God, is light. The written Word declares that “God is light,” and also that “God is love.” Since its axiomatic that things equal to the same thing are equal to each other, it follows that love is light, light is love, and that God, light, and love (compassion) are but different names for the same indivisible reality. Say, the way steam, ice and water are different names for the same substance (H2O); or the way Uncle Sam and the U. S. Government are different names for the same entity. As there is no neuron in the body that of itself functions independently from the neuro-chemistry (electricity) of the brain and central nervous system, or no appliance in a household that, by itself, runs separately from the same electrical energy source, likewise, there is no part of creation, even evil itself, that operates apart from this single universal unifying element of light. Great knowledge integrates and synthesizes, seeing all as one (unitive consciousness). Small knowledge breaks down into the many and divides, seeing all things as siloed (separation consciousness).

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    Jeanette Metler

    What it takes, to turn interdependence into habits or values of compassion and cooperation… is an awareness and understanding of envisioning everything as a necessary and contributing part of the Whole… each one deserving and worthy of being respected, valued and honored as sacred… each one a blessed gift of Oneness. The mystics understood and were aware of being and living in this vision… founded on love, compassion and mercy… which is our shared common task… which not only reveals the way to our survival but rather resurrects the thriving beauty and goodness of the Spirit of the Divine… consciously awakening within our understanding… that ability to not only see, but to co-creatively choose to participate in the unfolding, evolving and emergence of the reality of our Wholeness, Oneness and the Holiness and Sacredness of this vision… already present, embedded inherently and naturally within the all and the everything of creation. There is a death that gives life in this transformational process… that being the death of all that contributes to the illusions, delusions and deceptions of separation.

  4. Avatar

    Thank you Matthew for your beautiful and profound spiritual meditation explaining and summarizing the wisdom of the teachings of all past and present spiritual mystical traditions — our Creator~Source’s Loving Living Presence within/among us in All God’s ongoing Creation~Evolution on earth and in the multiverse Cosmos, especially in our eternal souls with one another, in Loving Diverse Oneness….
    ?❤️?

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    I think one thing that might be necessary is a shift in the concept of ownership. It seems to me like the idea of a kind of “absolute” ownership has been a major driver behind so many of the problems we are facing today. We have been preoccupied with cutting up and “owning” little pieces out of the interdependent web of life (thereby harming it). Everybody being concerned individually about what they do and don’t own stands in the way of our perception of and participation in the whole community of life. We need a different understanding of ownership more along the lines of borrowing, a form of ownership that goes along with compassion, instead of discouraging it.

    1. Avatar

      Good points because the concern over ownership is operating out of selfishness and the concept of scarcity rather than out of compassion and generosity and the concept of abundance. The result is all the divisiveness and hatred and fear that so characterizes our culture today.

    2. Avatar
      Isabel Stanley

      Very good point about borrowing rather than owning. Land especially. How do you own an ocean-front lot? The sea could wash it away tomorrow. And how do you own a mountain? We should approach all land ownership with humility.

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