Beyond the Edge of Knowledge: An Ecological Hope for Lent

The Sarah Champlin
The Bonobo
Monday, March 25, 2024

Every single creature is full of God
and is a book about God.
Every creature is a word of God.
If I spend enough time with the tiniest creature,
even a caterpillar,
I would never have to prepare a sermon.
So full of God is every creature.
Meister Eckhart

The Bonobo

Bonobos are fascinating creatures, in no small part due to their method of organizing themselves as a collective. They have a matriarchal leadership system and operate in a manner much more peaceful than their violence-prone first cousins, chimpanzees (not to mention their other violence-prone cousins, humans). How is it that this species has grown a reputation for peacemaking in the wild jungles of the Congo? Gayle Boss describes the management style of this unique group of apes: “Led by females, they settle their conflict with pleasurable touch.”

Yes you heard that right: bonobos have turned the swords of bared teeth and brutalization into plowshares of kisses and caresses. Confrontations between bonobos often begin and end with hugs. It’s laughable to think about our own species doing the same: can you imagine a gathering of the United Nations, where our world leaders resolve global issues through belly rubs? It’s ridiculous, untenable, a frankly unsophisticated way of life. Indeed bonobos’ status as endangered speaks to the fragile nature of this kind of community.

Yet the bonobos might be onto something intrinsic in our instincts, buried so deep in our bodies we have almost forgotten that it still lies within us. The power of touch is no small thing, allowing us to get in touch (literally) with ourselves, and those around us. Author and activist Adrienne Maree Brown discovered this truth while taking a course in Generative Somatics.1 The word somatics comes from the Greek word soma, meaning “the whole of an organism.” Somatic practice seeks to understand human beings as an integrated mind, body, and spirit. It works through the body, empowering practitioners to connect with themselves as a whole human system. Somatic practices can be used to work through trauma and collective pain. Through this course, brown found healing and deep inner truth. She writes “The beautiful, miraculous new possibility is: I am able to stay present in my yes. I can feel my face flush, my heart pound, a smile I can’t swallow. I can feel myself move toward an idea, a longing, a vision. I am a whole system; we are whole systems…wired for pleasure, and we can learn how to say yes from the inside out.” Connecting with our bodies and what feels good brings us back to ourselves and our inner spirit. Through this feeling practice we begin to heal. 

Jesus, too understood the power of embodied healing. In Mark’s Gospel a crowd witnesses a healing moment fueled by touch: a little girl on the brink of death regained her strength as she took Jesus’ hand and got up. Touch is a balm for the soul and body. It connects us and renews us, helping us feel our yeses from the inside out. 

May we look to the bonobos for new, embodied ways of relating to each other. May we continue our Lenten journey open to beautiful, miraculous new possibilities of being in the world. May we seek to take Jesus by the hand, feeling the yes in our body as he calls to us “Get up!”

Taking her by the hand, he said to her, ‘Talitha koum,’ which means, ‘Little girl, get up!’ And immediately the girl stood up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement.
—Mark 5:41–42

March 25, 2024

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