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Science: Old and New: Weekly Summary

Science: Old and New

Summary: Sunday, November 3 — Friday, November 8, 2019

Like never before in history, this generation has at its disposal new and wonderful evidence from science, confirming the presence and power of what many of us would call A Very Insistent and Persistent Love at the heart of all creation. (Sunday)

Science is finding that the world is an integrated whole rather than separated parts. We are all holons, which are simultaneously a whole and yet a part of a larger whole. (Monday)

A religion, old or new, that stressed the magnificence of the universe as revealed by modern science might be able to draw forth reserves of reverence and awe hardly tapped by the conventional faiths. —Carl Sagan (Tuesday)

Just as Augustine reinterpreted Christianity in light of Plato in the 4th century, and Aquinas integrated Aristotle in the 13th, today there are dozens of theologians across the spectrum re-envisioning the Christian faith [by integrating] . . . an evidence-based understanding of biological, cosmic, and cultural evolution. —Michael Dowd (Wednesday)

God is not “in” heaven nearly as much as God is the force field that allows us to create heaven through our intentions and actions. (Thursday)

The mycorrhizae may form fungal bridges between individual trees, so that all the trees in a forest are connected. . . . The trees all act as one because the fungi have connected them. Through unity, survival. All flourishing is mutual. —Robin Wall Kimmerer (Friday)

 

Practice: Relating to Plants

I was introduced to the work of biologist and Anglican Rupert Sheldrake in the book we both contributed to, How I Found God in Everyone and Everywhere. [1] While Sheldrake’s research of morphic resonance hasn’t been accepted by mainstream scientists, I do find value in many of his insights that probe the ever-unfolding mystery of reality.

In his recent book Science and Spiritual Practices, Sheldrake writes:

One of the areas in which religious people can learn from the nonreligious is in connecting with the more-than-human world in new ways opened up by science. Even the most atheistic scientists form a relationship with the natural world through their investigation of it, however specialized their field of study. Many religious people lack this sense of connection with the details of nature, and some seem impatient to soar beyond them.

This is an area with a huge potential for spiritual exploration. The natural sciences have unveiled a universe far larger, older, and stranger than anything previously imagined. They have revealed details about biological life that no one knew before, including the existence of realms of microorganisms around us, and also within us: the vast community of microbes that lives in our guts. The sciences have penetrated into realms of the very large and the very small which our ancestors knew nothing about. The trouble is that the sciences give us vast amounts of data, but it is devoid of personal or spiritual meaning. [2]

The advantage of most spiritual practices is precisely that they are about practice rather than belief. They are therefore open to religious people and to nonreligious people. They are inclusive. [3]

Plants offer us connections to life-forms totally different from our own. Like us, plants grow and become. But unlike plants, we stop growing and start behaving, as do other animals. Plants are the source of qualities that we and other animals experience: forms, smells, tastes, textures, and colors. They feed us, directly or indirectly; they heal us as herbs . . . and they are much older than we are. The main families of flowering plants have been around for tens of millions of years; conifers for three hundred million years; ferns, mosses, seaweeds, and other algae even longer. [4]

Following Sheldrake’s invitation to practice relating with nature, take some time to simply be present to a flower, plant, or tree. After choosing a quiet location (or selecting a photograph or art image if you’re not able to go outside), look around, above, below, and behind you, enjoying the environment and noting that you can feel completely safe and relaxed in this place. Open to your intuition or to any image or sensation about what specific flower, plant, or tree you will spend some time with in contemplation.

Sit or kneel quietly nearby. As humans, we tend to be observers of the world that appears outside of us. Instead, allow the flower, plant, or tree to observe you. Let yourself be seen by this being. Or you might do like the mystics and have a dialogue with your flower, plant, or tree. If you like, you might keep a journal reflecting on your experiences or to express gratitude for any insights that might arise. To make this a regular “practice,” set aside a similar time of day at least once a week when you can visit this flower, plant, or tree.

References:
[1] See Rupert Sheldrake, How I Found God in Everyone and Everywhere (Monkfish Book Publishing: 2018).

[2] Rupert Sheldrake, Science and Spiritual Practices: Transformative Experiences and Their Effects on Our Bodies, Brains, and Health (Counterpoint: 2018), 168-169.

[3] Ibid., 165.

[4] Ibid., 167.

For Further Study:
Rob Bell, Ilia Delio, and Richard Rohr, CONSPIRE 2014: A Benevolent Universe (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2014), MP4 video download

“Evidence,” Oneing, vol. 2, no. 2 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2014)

Joanna Macy and Molly Young Brown, Coming Back to Life: The Updated Guide to the Work that Reconnects (New Society Publishers: 2014)

Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants (Milkweed Editions: 2013)

Image credit: Chestnut Trees at Jas de Bouffan (detail), Paul Cézanne, 1880/1891. Minnesota Institute of Art, Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: In the old times, our elders say, the trees talked to each other. They’d stand in their own council and craft a plan. But scientists decided long ago that plants were deaf and mute, locked in isolation without communication. . . . There is now compelling evidence that our elders were right—the trees are talking to one another. —Robin Wall Kimmerer
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