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 Today's Take:  NCR's daily Web column
Each weekday over the course of a week, a member of the NCR staff offers a commentary on one or more topics in the news.  It's our way of introducing you to some of the people carrying out the NCR mission of faith and justice based journalism.

January 30, 2004
Vol. 1, No. 192




Sister Rita Larivee Integral reality

Sister Rita Larivee, SSA, NCR associate publisher

This week, Larivee is exploring new, emerging ideas that don't typically make it into the public arena. Follow these links to read:
w Part One: Learning more to discover more.
   w Part Two: Not new solutions, new questions.
   w Part Three: Eight groups of consciousness.
   w Part Four: The spiral of existence.
I started the week by addressing the "extravagant universe" as it expands across space at an ever-increasing speed. Next, I took a leap into the expanding realm of quantum theology as it considers our evolving journey with the universe, not as observers, but as fully evolving participants. And finally, I ventured into the realm of consciousness and its implications for the human family as we attempt to resolve conflict with a better understanding of how each of us interprets the world around us.

Though the three areas of study are separate and will typically be found in different departments at most universities, each tells a similar truth:

The whole is more than the sum of its parts.
(There's much more than we can see.)
(There's an interconnectedness we are only beginning to understand.)

Choose just about anything, a car, a painting, a musical piece, or even a human being, and divide it into parts. Though each part may continue to make or have its unique contribution or characteristic, the distinctiveness of the totality is gone.

But do we really believe this? I wonder if deep down we tend to be skeptics about the idea and see it more as a thought to be admired than a reality that affects our everyday lives.

We have been nurtured by an understanding of the world that came about following the period of the Enlightenment. We began to see everything in very rational terms -- if we cannot see it, it must not exist; if we cannot prove it, it must not be true. The limited laws of science we knew back then ruled the day, and our limited understanding of the scientific method was applied to everything, material and spiritual.

I do not mean to minimize the importance of that particular age; it was a superb moment that set in motion an awakening that has yet to cease. But it also had a way of suppressing our sense of "awe" as we journeyed through life. We became well-acquainted with the tools of measurement, but in doing so we also distanced ourselves from those areas of life that could not be measured.

In a way, we came to believe that everything is nothing more than the sum of its constituent parts. If something goes wrong, it must be a problem with one of the parts. All we need to do is identify the problem part and we can fix it.

Medicine is a good example of this type of thinking. How often have we heard complaints about doctors caring more for the disease than for the patient? Specialization, though necessary, has also had the unfortunate side effect of dividing human beings into a series of separate compartments. It is well-acknowledged today that our emotional and spiritual well-being is very much connected to our physical well-being.

Other Today's Takes by Rita Larivee
June 25, 03 Use closed sessions with caution
June 24, 03 Howard Dean and a reminder of the common good
June 23, 03 Baseball's best kept secret
May 21, 03 Kudos to Maine Rx
May 20, 03 Managed truth (a.k.a. 'lying')
May 19, 03 Celebrating spring rites of passage
Another example is the global economy and the world ecosystem. We are no longer able to make national decisions that do not impact other nations. The health of a nation is no longer independent of other nations. When one nation is in trouble, we are all in trouble. The global community is much more than a collective of countries. For instance, we know that terrorism is a global problem. But to think that we can rectify the problem by dealing with one or two countries is hardly adequate. We must heal the whole, if we are to heal the parts.

Those studying the universe understand this when they say that energy displacement in one part causes a disturbance in another part. A star on one side of the galaxy is not as separate as once thought from a star on the other side of the galaxy.

This thought also appears within quantum theology -- the whole being more than the sum of its parts. For many years, it was said that we were physical beings with a soul. Then we heard it said that we were actually spiritual beings having a physical experience. Quantum theology prefers to say that we are truly spiritual and physical, an integral reality of the two. Can we truly heal spiritual and physical ailments separately from each other?

But what does this mean for our world and for our church that the whole is more than the sum of its parts?

Let me give two suggestions.

  1. When the clergy sex abuse scandal finally became public, the leadership of the Catholic church put into motion policies for addressing the particular cases involved and procedures for dealing with the victims and their abusers. But if we apply the reality that we are all connected and cannot be compartmentalized, then the entire well-being of all church structures must be addressed. Everything we are learning about the integral connection within all systems cannot but lead us to the conclusion that clergy abuse is part of a greater totality that is in need of much reform.
  2. Security has become a major concern in the world with new security policies being issued almost every month. Yet there is also great concern about whether any of the new objectives can achieve the stated goals. While the specific measures taken to improve security may not be bad, they do not address the totality of the situation, namely, that the specific protocols are dealing more with the threat of terrorism, than with the cause. Of course, there are those who say the cause is Osama bin Laden, etc. But this too only reflects how we can point to a single part of the whole and tell ourselves that if we deal with the part, we will have resolved the problem for the whole.

In summary, I believe we must continue our exploration into new areas that may provide solutions for the future. Whether they are theological, spiritual, psychological or scientific, there is still much for us to discover. It's a big world out there and it's getting bigger all the time. But we're also more interconnected than we've ever been before. Our challenges may be great, but the well-being of the global community is certainly worth the effort.

Rita Larivee is NCR associate publisher. She can be reached at

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