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  • Writer's pictureGreg Dover

Greg's Weekly Word: "holon"

It kind of sounds like "pollen," which is actually a good example (and a very noticeable one![*sneezes and rubs watery eyes*]), as are the whirligigs that fall from maple trees and the (not-so) sweet gum balls.

Do the trees contain the seeds, or do the seeds contain the trees?

It's a philosophical question, resolved by the idea of a holon (from the Greek words holos, "whole" and -on, "part"). It refers to something that is simultaneously a whole, in and of itself, as well as a part of a larger whole. Or a part that represents a whole. (The word literally means "whole-part" or "part-whole".)

All of creation and every aspect therein is a holon of/with God. Each created thing is its own entity (i.e. a whole), but also carries the divine imprint and a part of God's creation...and therefore, a part of God. The medieval mystic and saint, Julian of Norwich, understood this, writing,

Everything that is has its being through the love of God.

Julian of Norwich, seeing God in everything

And we see the same idea in scripture when the Apostle Paul writes that God's divinity and presence can be seen and understood through creation (Romans 1:20), and the Psalmist says,

The heavens declare the glory of God, and the skies proclaim the work of God's hands (Psalm 19:1)

And we are called to love God with all we are and all we have, and to love all God has made.

But that's a LOT to ask. And hard to do. Which is why theologian and writer Richard Rohr encourages people to apply this philosophical insight in a very literal and practical way:

Don’t start by trying to love God, or even people. Love rocks and elements first, move to trees, then animals, and then humans. It works. In fact, it might be the only way to love, because how you do anything is how you do everything.

It's a good reminder to start small. To start where we are. Because we are all holons. We are all individuals - whole persons in and of ourselves - AND we are a part of larger communities: our work and schools, our neighborhoods and cities, our churches and the entire Body of Christ. We are a part of God's whole creation! So as we live in that creation and in our communities, may all we do - even the smallest of acts and tasks - be done in love (1 Corinthians 16:14).


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