A few weeks ago, I went to the funeral of a friend’s dad. Because of being close friends with her stepfather, who married her mother just after she was born, she has called me uncle all her life. As I sat looking over the audience and watched the videos with pictures of her father, I was surprised by how many people I knew or had met that were connected to this man – I worked with one, I went to church with several, I served in the National Guard with others, I saw them at birthday parties, graduations, etc. It was a quick reminder that we are all connected in some way.
As I continued to meditate on the number of people I knew from the funeral, I began to see the implications. The man I had worked with felt sympathy for a relative. Would it impact his work? Were there others I once worked with who knew my friend through this man? The ones who knew her from church felt sad with her and prayed for her, although they may not have known her father. The ones who served in the military knew the pain of loss and traumatic stress and understood more than most what she was going through. I barely knew many of the people I had seen at my friend’s birthday parties. Some of them were close to her father; many of them were related on her mother’s side. Yet we had in common our love for one beautiful young lady. I suddenly found myself in alliance with them in their sympathy for my friend. The lines were sometimes slender, but I saw that, though strangers, we were all in this boat together, all struggling to get back to land, all sharing duties, all looking for land or rowing or handing out food or praying. We were all connected, spiritually if not physically.
Charles Williams, the friend and fellow-Inkling of C.S. Lewis, frequently discussed the concept of co-inherence, meaning “binding together.” In essence, he believed that all people were connected to each other spiritually in Christ. He took literally all of the talk about the church being the body of Christ and bearing each other’s burdens and thought that all believers were spiritually connected. When his friends went off to World War I and he was disqualified because of his terrible eyesight, he felt connected to them in their service and grieved terribly when they died. Based on this, he argued that the pains experienced by any Christian ought to be felt and carried by all and that it is possible for one person to carry the burdens of fear, grief, and pain if others are willing to give them up. In his novel, Descent into Hell, poet Peter Stanhope agrees to carry the fear of Pauline Anstruther when she began seeing her own doppelganger and believed her death was imminent. The ones who struggled most with evil were those who were disconnected from others. In fact, in real life Williams actually established an informal organization, the Companions of Co-inherence, which included his friends and protégés who agreed to be bound to each other in the spiritual sense that Williams meant.
In a similar way, I recognized the connections I had with so many others as part of my own co-inherence with my friend and her family. When my friend wept at her father’s passing, my heart was burdened, though I lived across town and did not see her daily. When her family members grieved, so also did I. Even now, I pray that I can help carry her grief during this time that she might know peace. When she was younger, and her family rejoiced with each year passing, with graduations and awards, I rejoiced with her and her family and friends. Though we are not as close as we once were, I remain connected to her, as I am also connected to all who place their faith in God. I desire all of these friends and family to be successful, healthy, happy, empowered, and spiritually attuned. The same is true of my friends and family, who are connected to me, who feel my pain and help carry my burdens. Even the strangers I meet at stores or see on weekends are connected to me and would ask about me if I were gone. This is how the body of Christ is supposed to work. We are constantly supporting each other, inquiring about each other, and helping each other.
When we look at life, we begin to see how we are all connected by a web of interactions and relationships with friends, family, and even strangers, and that these interactions are what make up most of our lives – our loving, grieving, helping, and supporting. It is only by recognizing that we are all part of the same body, all connected by God to each other, that we understand how serious our responsibility is to help one another. This is when the spiritual power of being interconnected truly comes to life.
© 2022 J.D. Manders