“Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.”
– Albert Einstein
“As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.”
– Proverbs 27:17
Today, I met a word I did not know – mycelium – and my grasp of God’s creative glory has mushroomed. (That’s a pun; hang with me here.)
Although mycelium appears to be the life of the party, we dare not take mycelium for granted as just a fungi. It is that, but so much more. Mycelium is a complex cellular network profoundly impacting everything in its path.
Mycelium is, in fact, nature’s life network, feeding tube, glue, pharmacist, and traffic controller; the recycling system that nourishes all of life – animal, mineral and vegetable. Mycelium cycles basic life nutrients through the food chain, enriches earth’s soil, and paves the path of plants and animals to survive and thrive.
Medical mycologist Paul Stamets, founder and chief science officer at Fungi Perfecti, calls mycelium the “wood wide web” that works “underfoot with nearly every footstep on a lawn, field, or forest floor … as much as 90% of land plants are in a mutually beneficial relationship with mycelial networks. Without … mycelium, all ecosystems would fail. Mycelium … (has) enormous potential to benefit the health of both people and planet.”
Now, here is the final fact that mushrooms my grasp of God’s creative glory: The DNA of mycelium closely resembles the DNA of the entire animal kingdom, including human beings. Therefore, we humans are not only nearly 100% alike to each other, but equally closely related to mushrooms!
I prayerfully ponder this knowledge of basic life relationships. Einstein and proverbs come crashing in on my meditation. I grasp how the metaphoric power of mycelium is a fundamental antidote to all our human disconnections, divisions and discords. Our mycelium-like connectedness, deep down, at our roots, is not just possible, but natural and necessary for our survival as humans in relation to all those things we fuss and fume about every day.
My dearest science faculty colleague writes, “I like the notion that the mushrooms above ground seem isolated from one another, but are truly connected. None of us is alone. Have to be careful with language so as not to seem corny, but it’s also true that our natural connections may be driven underground by circumstances.”
He closes with reference to one of the most holy persons he and I have shared with in prayer and contemplation over the decades: “I need not tell you that this would be an illustration of Thich Nhat Hanh’s concept of ‘inter-being.’”
Bingo! Thich Nhat Hanh is core to my Christian faith. He, more than any other religious figure, has taught me the deeper meaning of St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians (12:12): “There is one body, but it has many parts. But all its many parts make up one body.” So, Paul goes on (in my paraphrase), the eyelash cannot say to the toenail, I have no need of thee; the tuba cannot say to the piccolo, you don’t belong here; the straight cannot say to the gay, lesbian, bisexual, or trans-sister/trans–brother, you are not one of us; the Democrat cannot say to the Republican, you don’t deserve to live; the Wolverine cannot say to the Buckeye, you stinketh; the Christian cannot say to the Buddha, Jesus and Buddha may have been brothers, but you are no spiritual kin of mine.
My Lakota sisters and brothers have chanted it in their prayers for centuries, “Mitakuye Oyasin” – we are all relatives! My favorite childhood church hymn perhaps says it best: “All God’s children got a place in the choir; some sing low, some sing higher; some sing out on the telephone wire; some just clap their hands, or paws, or anything they got.” May it be so. Blessed be.
The Rev. Jon R. Powers is chaplain emeritus at Ohio Wesleyan University.