At our recent Clergy conference the guest speaker spoke of an approach to family life that is called systems theory. I have been interested in it for many years and have seen how numerous therapists have developed their understanding of family life around various approaches to systems theory.
It doesn’t stop there, for there are other consultants who have developed approaches to the so-called business world by way of systems theory. Our speaker endeavored to apply it to parish life.He did make one interesting contribution by making a model that illustrated what systems theory was. He built what we have called a ‘mobile’, not as in phone but a hanging decoration. I’m sure with a little prompting you can picture what I mean.
Picture a piece of string connected to the ceiling, and holding a cross piece suspended on the string then perhaps from either end, other strings holding in balance further rods with small objects connected to them, so that according to the way everything is balanced and maybe in the breeze gently moves.
His purpose was to show how everything is connected, and even the slightest movement of one part results in movement in the whole structure.
GOSPEL: FEEDING OF THE FIVE THOUSAND
Today we have read the account of the feeding of the 5000 as John told the story. I want to suggest that its message has parallels to systems theory. Everything does matter.
We are told the people of the region heard that Jesus was headed toward a particular place, so hundreds and thousands from across the region came hurriedly to where they thought he was heading. As people gathered Jesus asked his disciples how they were to feed the crowd. Obviously that was presumably a testing question for it says, ‘he knew what he was to do’.
The story proceeds with Andrew, I guess making a cynical remark, that a small boy had his own snack lunch. Under Jesus instruction he had them sit down and proceeded to multiply the small offering of the boy’s lunch. The crowd was fed and the left overs gathered.
Lets look at this event from three different perspectives mindful of the systems theory perspective.
1. BOY’S LUNCH
The first point we note from the story of the young boys lunch is obviously illustrating that not one iota of activity or contribution in life is made without some impact. Even faced with a massive assignment, Andrew saw a link with the small boys lunch.
Externally his contribution seemed so insignificant, but if we look at life at a deeper level. I mean on a psychic level, then the actual feeding of the crowd, however that happened, is perhaps pointing to the arousal of peoples thinking from the smallest action. If you’re young enough you might be on Facebook or watch youtube videos.
For we oldies you might have seen on TV the occasional story of an extraordinary happening involving a young child.Whatever means you engage with, youtube or TV, your heart is stirred and it influences you.
Presumably you’re not the only one. A whole community can be influenced.
There is a third perspective in the story. It involves Jesus. It’s Jesus who asks Philip how they are to get the bread. It proceeds. He asked this for he knew what he was to do.This takes the story, beyond the physical contribution of the boy. Beyond the psychic, thought of rousing the community, to share openly with others. And to a depth of spirit Jesus perceives arising from the source of being.
There is no limit to the potential of life, grounded in the being of God.
Even if we take it at face value, and accept that in some way Jesus multiplied the bread, there is much more to perceive. I’m suggesting that the event can best be understood as pointing to the extraordinary capacity of life, if people cooperate with it, body, mind, soul and spirit.
All is integrally interconnected, like one great system.
Even the smallest event in life, a smile, a kind word, a generous action, a thoughtful word, a desperate prayer, they will impact upon the greater universe. As they say, the fluttering of a butterfly impacts the furthest continent. I have no difficulty with this because what we externally see hear or feel, is only the tip of the iceberg. There is so much more mentally or spiritually involved.
Virginia Satyr was a well-known family therapist who saw the interconnection of all things. She encouraged people to picture each member as connected to one another by ropes as if a net. When one moves it interacts on others.When we speak of human life it is more helpful to think of ourselves as persons, rather than individuals. Individuals implies a separateness.Persons implies a connectedness of one another whether body mind soul or spirit.
We are all part of an interconnected community. There is nothing that we do, or think or feel, that does not impact on the wider world in some way. The way we manage our lives, is helping to build our world and shape the Kingdom of God. The smallest gesture will offer some nourishm