In a drop of water, millions of molecules hold together by, in part, pushing against each other. This phenomenon is called surface tension. Two things are happening in the water drop at once.
Water molecules push and pull each other constantly. They hold together because they are all, well, water. Each and every, all of them.
There is a greater attraction of water to water than water to air or leaf. And where water meets a different material the molecules at that meeting point pull closer to other water molecules than to the air above or the leaf below. They create a surface that pulls in and holds all the water together.
When two drops of water meet, they join and form a larger drop – water holds to water.
I noticed drops of water experiencing their tension after a summer rain recently. It got me thinking about all the things that are possible because of this tension. It creates puddles and lakes and oceans. It allows us to float. It is a factor in how plants and animals and soil interact with water to make life possible.
So this tension is part of what makes life possible.
It got me thinking about how humans talk about tension in a different way – as painful or objectionable or violent.
What if we thought about it as the natural consequence of humans pushing and pulling each other constantly and something that can hold us together?
What if we pulled in close those of us at the surfaces – on the edges and at the margins – to form a strong, cohesive community?
What if we welcomed and joined other groups of humans we encountered – just because we are all human?
And what if our tension – our pushing and pulling – created the possibility of more life?
Of course, we are not as simple as drops of water. We think and feel and categorize ourselves.
Too often we treat other people and groups as if they are a completely different substance from us. How can non-sentient water be wiser than we?
We experience tension as conflict, yet it can also be a creative force, the thing that helps ideas bloom. The thing that makes life possible.
One of the ways that humans across many cultures and eras describe coming together is in our eating together. Breaking bread is a euphemism for peacemaking. Everything on the table of our peacemaking is possible because of tension. Surface tension, this concept described by physicists, makes possible the grain in the bread. It is the way we are able to pour and share and swallow a drink. We couldn’t even hold hands or say a prayer without that tension.
There is something that can attract us to each other if we let it. We are all human, each and every, all of us. In my tradition, we say that all humans are created in the image of God. For all our pushing and pulling, there is this essence about us at a cellular level that makes us one, that makes life possible. That makes life.