The times we are living through are characterized by increasing numbers of human beings on earth all of whom are exposed to an increasing amount of information about each other and all of whom are becoming more dependent on one another for survival. At the same time that we experience this, we are ever more aware of the need for inner unity within each individual human person. The need for the integration of the body, the psyche, and the spirit. The nations of the world are restructuring their administrative blocks into larger units to adjust to transoceanic communication. Even as they do the words of Teilhard de Chardin echo in our ears: "The age of nations is past. The task before us is to build the earth." Here too we find the bond between ourselves and the earth slipping from our grasp before many are convinced of the problem.
Increasing closeness and interdependency have not brought unity although the believer sights many positive signs in the morning headlines. The nuclear threat has diminished, etc., etc. And yet we are plagued with our own alienation from our inner selves, our spiritual selves, and from one another.
If we look to the world religions we find encouraging signs of dialogue but at the same time a great deal of competition for "converts", geopolitical maneuvering as in Africa and the Middle East and elsewhere, and considerable confusion and mutual suspicion among the rank and file.
With Christianity there is dispute about nearly everything including the Christ. If you ask the ancient question "Who do you say I am?" you will still get a wide range of answers and allegiances complete with scriptural references to support them. On the right are the fundamentalists and many charismatics; on the left the social activists; and feeling distant from the fray, the mystics.
Then there are the major growth movements outside organized religion, e.g., the New Age advocates, the transpersonal psychologists, psychics, wiccans, and ancient native ways such as shamanism.
Nearly all of these groups seem to be thriving in their own enclaves but remain suspicious, or disdainful, or simply ignorant of the other. Ignorance especially breeds multiple biases.
Meanwhile the members of the scientific community battle one another as to the existence of the spiritual dimension in empirical research even as their more enlightened colleagues write books with titles like "The Presence of Our Past" by Rupert Sheldrake, "Wholeness and the Implicate Order" by David Bohm, and "The Tao of Physics" by Fritjof Capra.
I believe that if the lion and lamb can lie down together so too can all these warring seekers after truth.
To equip ourselves for the inquiry though, we shall need some mantras to maintain our perspective. Here are some I suggest:
"It is not those who say to me, 'Lord, Lord', who will enter the kingdom of heaven, but those who do the will of my Father in heaven." (Matthew 7.21)
"Anyone who is not against us is for us." (Matthew 9.4)
"When you are a guest, make your way to the lowest place and sit there.." (Luke 14.10)
"I still have many things to say to you but they would be too much for you now. But when the Spirit of truth comes he will lead you to the complete truth...and he will tell you of the things to come." (John 16.12,13)
"If the vision comes slowly, wait, for come it will without fail." (Habakkuk 2.3)
All of these Scriptural passages underscore Jesus' intimation to His listeners that they are in constant danger of misunderstanding Him through too narrow a vision or of misappropriating Him by seeking a truth more manageable than the one Jesus presents or of rising up in pride against the outsider, or of being too defensive in the face of the new or strange. Always the Christ exhorts to a higher plane of thinking, a greater magnanimity, a more inclusive love. Greater things than these shall Nathaniel see. He will see the heavens opened.
And so Nathaniel is our guide and patron saint and our metaphor for the great work of unity that the 21st century inspires. His journey from cynicism to a conventional faith to the heights of personal transcendence lead him to an interior freedom that enables the adventuresome task of casting his net on the other side of the boat in John 21. In our quest for personal and global unity may he be with us.