Rebecca C. Axel, 1990, in New Essays in Religious Naturalism


It is incumbent upon us adults, whether we are parents or not, to offer the children of our culture a finer vision of relationships than they can find in the pyramid of patriarchal secularism. I prefer the more horizontal model of "web." This particular model was concretized for me one day when my daughter Jenny and I were walking in the woods. We chanced upon two saplings which anchored a large and impressive spider web. Its lovely pattern sparkled in the early morning sunlight, which caught the dew drops that still clung to its webbed strands. We were awestruck. We humans, endowed with higher-order brains and sophisticated neurological structures, were humbled by the wonderful work of our tiny, talented sister.

  The picture of that wonderful creation comes to me as I struggle to understand, and speak about, this rich and perplexing experience of being human. I like to imagine that web multiplied many times over, each duplication in a different plane, all the planes intersecting and all faces of the web connected.

  Just as the concept of power in the web is relational, so, too, is the concept of the self. The self's very life springs from the relationality of communal life. Indeed, we live in our web and our web lives in us. Possibilities are not inherent in the individual; they emerge out of the relationality which the self experiences in community. This emerging relationality creates possibilities. Freedom, then, becomes an occasion not for the exercise of self-interest and unilateral power, but relational growth. [Bernard] Loomer puts it well: "We are most free in all the dimensions of our freedom when we enter more deeply into those relationships which are creative of ourselves as people of larger size."

   Relational power must deal with the concrete life of other beings, in the richnss of its many dimensions. Those who practice unilateral power have an easier task, of course. For them others exist as stereotypes, fitted into neat categories that mask the very real disorderliness of human life. Those who practice relational power, on the other hand, dive into the disorder; for they know that therein lies the only possibility for authentic relationships. "Power, to be creative and not destructive, must be inextricably related to the ambiguous, contradictory, and baffling character of concrete existence." [Loomer] The person of greater size will be able to recognize that the forces which produce tragedy and evil are inseparable from the forces which can produce good. Such a person will be able to take within himself or herself "greater evil and greater good without losing personal integrity." ... We achieve our fulfillment in the finer relationships we work to create and which, in turn, sustain us. When we engage in such creative work, we sustain our web of relationality and nourish all of life.


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