The Great Turning — Center for Action and Contemplation

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The Great Turning

Science: Week 2

The Great Turning
Monday, November 9, 2015

I have set before you life and death, therefore choose life. —Deuteronomy 30:19

Eco-philosopher, Earth elder, friend, and spiritual activist Joanna Macy, now in her eighties, has been promoting a transition from the Industrial Growth Society to a Life-sustaining Society for most of her life. She calls it the Great Turning, a revolution of great urgency: “While the agricultural revolution took centuries, and the industrial revolution took generations, this ecological revolution has to happen within a matter of a few years.” She is hopeful as she sees individuals and groups participating in “1) actions to slow the damage to Earth and its beings; 2) analysis of structural causes and creation of structural alternatives; and 3) a fundamental shift in worldview and values.” [1, emphasis mine]

Macy understands that the third type of action—essentially, a new way of seeing—is “the most basic dimension of the Great Turning.” Macy goes on to describe how this different consciousness is a wheel hub at the very core of the shift that is taking place. How do these transformative insights and experiences come about? Macy explains:

They arise as grief for our world, giving the lie to old paradigm notions of the essential separateness of the isolated, competitive ego.

Or they may arise from our glad response to breakthroughs in scientific thought, to the new lens on reality provided by quantum theory, astrophysics, and general living systems theory—as we see, with a sigh of relief, that the reductionism and materialism which shaped the worldview of the Industrial Growth Society are about as useful as the abacus in understanding the nature of the universe.

Or we may find ourselves moved by the wisdom traditions of native peoples and mystical voices in our own religions, hearkening to their teachings as to some half-forgotten song that reminds us again that our world is a sacred whole in which we have a sacred mission. [2]

Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179), a Germanic Renaissance woman, was doing this 800 years ago. In her book Scivias she writes, “You understand so little of what is around you because you do not use what is within you.” Somehow she already understood what science has found: “The macrocosm is mirrored in the microcosm.” [3] 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. This is moving us from a medieval, mechanistic, Newtonian view of the universe to a holistic/ecological view. [4] Nothing is static, and if you try to construct an unchangeable or independent universe for yourself, you will be moving against the now obvious divine plan and direction.

Gateway to Silence:
Co-creating wholeness

[1] Joanna Macy and Molly Young Brown, Coming Back to Life: Practices to Reconnect Our Lives, Our World (New Society Publishers: 1998), 17.

[2] Ibid., 21.

[3] Adapted from Richard Rohr, unpublished “Rhine” talks (2015).

[4] Ilia Delio explored this concept at CAC’s CONSPIRE 2014 conference. For more on this, see The Francis Factor videos in which Ilia discusses similar themes.

Image Credit: Hildegard von Bingen, “The Universe” (detail), Scivias Codex, c. 1165.
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