One body

Daily Reading for November 27

St. Paul kept holding up a vision of a new interconnected humanity. “Bear one another’s burdens,” he said. “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” . . . No one understood this better than C.S. Lewis’s novelist friend Charles Williams, who believed that we humans are meant to be what he called “godbearers” to each other, channels of God’s love. And he said that the deepest truth of our lives is what he called the “co-inherence,” that our lives are immersed in God. There’s no separating out God in us and us in God and you and me in each other.

In Charles Williams’ novel Descent into Hell a woman who has been suffering with an almost pathological fear is confronted by a wise friend with a strange question: “Haven’t you asked [someone] to carry your fear?” “What do you mean?” she responds. “How can anyone carry my fear?” He tells her that she could hand that burden over to him and that he could carry it for her. “When you think you’ll be afraid, let me put myself in your place and be afraid instead of you.

“Haven’t you heard,” he says, “St. Paul’s words about bearing one another’s burdens? That’s no pious talk; it’s a fact of experience. I can carry your burden for you; it’s part of the law of the universe.” He is saying we can actually substitute for each other as we take on one another’s struggles.

C.S. Lewis himself, during the final stages of his wife’s illness with bone cancer, asked that some of her pain be given to him, and he reported that he developed in his own leg a painful condition, and for awhile his wife’s pain eased. A priest and close friend of mine has told me of times when, visiting someone overcome with fear, say, on the night before surgery, he has invited them to let him carry their fears for the night. And he has said that they have reported feeling relief from the burdens they were under as he himself felt weighted down.

These accounts may simply express the power of love and empathy. But could it be that our minds and spirits can profoundly affect each other? A great mystic of the early twentieth century, Baron Von Hügel, takes this seriously: “I wonder whether you realize a deep, great fact? That souls, all human souls, are interconnected … that we can not only pray for each other but suffer for each other.” . . .

Many of you know of the wonderful Kentucky farmer and writer Wendell Berry, who writes constantly about the interconnectedness of everything–past and present, human beings and the earth. A character in one of his stories sums it up this way: “We are members of each other. All of us. Everything. The difference isn’t in who is a member and who isn’t, but who knows and who doesn’t.”

From “One Communion” by the Very Rev. Samuel T. Lloyd III, a sermon preached at the National Cathedral on All Saints’ Sunday, November 7, 2010. Found at

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