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Humans lead the 'cosmic dance of dialogue'

By Leonard Swidler | China Daily | Updated: 2019-05-10 07:15

We humans have in the last two centuries increasingly learned that "nobody knows everything about anything". We know that all knowledge is interpreted knowledge. There is "reality" out there, but "truth" resides in our knowing capacities: senses, sensitivities and intellect.

Normally, we use the words "truth" and "true" to refer to our statements about something. We can say that our statement "the door is closed" is true if we have checked and found that the statement accurately described reality. At the same time, we can say many other "true" things about the door, for example, that it is so tall or so wide.

If this is true about a simple physical object, how much more is it true about more complicated, abstract matters, and especially the most comprehensive of all "disciplines", religion (an explanation of the total meaning of life, and how to live accordingly).

The all-encompassing meaning of claims in the scriptures will necessarily be limited by my knowing capacities. If I am believing Christian or Muslim, for example, the Bible or Quran will not have any effect on my life until it has gotten into my mind. But, like liquid Jell-o when poured into a container, it takes the shape of the container. The "truth" of the Bible or Quran will take the shape of my intellect. Analogously, this is the case with all religious believers-or believers in a comprehensive philosophy.

Dialogue is at the very heart of the universe, of which we humans are the highest expression. From the macro level, the basic interaction of matter and energy (as expressed in Einstein's well-known formula E=MC2: energy equals mass times the square of the speed of light-the cosmic constant), to the micro level, the creative interaction of protons and electrons in every atom, to the vital symbiosis of body and spirit in every human-through the creative dialogue between woman and man-to the dynamic relationship between individual and society. We humans are the lead dancers in this "cosmic dance of dialogue."

For us humans there are three main dimensions to dialogue, dialogue of the head, hands, and the heart in holistic harmony.

In the "dialogue of the head", we reach out to those who think differently from us to understand how they see the world and why they act as they do. The world is too complicated for anyone to grasp alone; increasingly, we can understand reality only in dialogue. This is important, because how we understand the world determines how we act in the world.

In the "dialogue of the hands", we join others to work, in order to make the world a better place. Since we can no longer live separately in the only world we know, we must work jointly to make it not just a house but a home for all of us. We join hands with the others to "heal the world"-tikun olam, in the Jewish tradition.

In the "dialogue of the heart", we open ourselves to receive the beauty of the "other". Because we humans are body and spirit, we give bodily spiritual expression in all the arts to our multifarious responses to life-joy, sorrow, gratitude, anger, and, most of all, love. We try to express our inner feelings, which grasp reality in far deeper ways than we are able to put into rational concepts and words. Hence, we create poetry, music, dance, painting, architecture-the expressions of the heart.

All the world delights in beauty, and so it is here that we find the easiest encounter with the "other", the simplest door to dialogue. Here, too, is where the depth, spiritual, mystical dimension of the human spirit is given full rein. As 17th century mathematician/philosopher Blaise Pascal said: the heart has its reasons, which reason knows not.

We humans cannot live a divided life. If we are to even survive, let alone flourish, we must "get it all together", as we in the 1960s chanted. We must not only dance the dialogues of the head, hands and the heart, but also bring our various parts together in harmony to live a holistic life-what religions mean is that we should be holy (from the Greek holos, or whole). Hence, we are authentically human only when our manifold elements are in dialogue with each other, and we are in dialogue with the others around us.

We humans must together be dancers in the "cosmic dance of dialogue" of the head, hands and the heart, holistically, in harmony with the holy human!

The author is a professor of Catholic Thought and Interreligious Dialogue at Temple University. The views don't necessarily represent that of China Daily.

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