Theme:
Cosmology: Part One

Cosmology: Part One

Summary: Sunday, August 25—Friday, August 30, 2019

Religious thinkers . . . are searching for a new synthesis of science and faith, a new cosmology, and a “new story.” —Denis Edwards (Sunday)

Now that we are coming to understand the magnificent nature of the cosmos, we’re finding that many of the intuitions of mystics of all religions are paralleled by scientific theories and explanations. (Monday)

Indigenous societies include science and theology and all other aspects of their culture as a part of their ordinary discourse, for the sciences have never been alienated from daily life. —Barbara Holmes (Tuesday)

If string theory is right, the microscopic fabric of our universe is a richly intertwined multidimensional labyrinth within which the strings of the universe endlessly twist and vibrate, rhythmically beating out the laws of the cosmos. —Brian Greene (Wednesday)

In North America, cosmology played an important part in slave escapes to freedom. They knew that freedom was north and they knew that the North Star (Polaris) could guide their feet. —Barbara Holmes (Thursday)

My heart tells me that the new physics is not new at all, but simply expresses in yet another way the fundamental truth that underpins creation. —Judy Cannato (Friday)

 

Practice: Contemplating the Cosmos

Bible scholar J. B. Phillips wrote a book many years ago entitled Your God Is Too Small. I believe that many of the world’s religious, political, and cultural divisions happen because our view is too narrow. For Christians, it’s important to realize that Christ is so much bigger and more inclusive than we’ve envisioned. Christ is universal and beyond time, indwelling all creation, anointing all matter with Spirit. Because of this, Christ’s people aren’t just Christians or some select group. Christ is too big to be encompassed or enclosed by any organization. If there’s going to be any hope for this world, we’ve got to start seeing God and Christ on this much bigger scale.

Too many Christians think that God only started interacting with humans 6,000 years ago. That’s unthinkable to me! Creation has existed for billions of years. My Franciscan tradition says that creation was the first Bible. Everything we need to know about God was revealed in creation from the beginning: “For in Christ all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. Christ is before all things, and in Christ all things hold together” (Colossians 1:16-17).

For today’s practice I invite you to meditate on our unfathomably vast, primordial, and complex cosmos. Set aside an hour to watch beautiful images caught by the Hubble Telescope and learn about our “Universe in Motion.”

Exploring the universe inspires us to consider—a word whose Latin roots cum (with) and sidera (stars) literally mean with the stars—a theology of cosmic praxis. Theologian Denis Edwards writes:

The concept of praxis . . . refers to our participation in the shaping of the world in which we live. It is based upon the idea that we are meant to make a difference. We are called to be contributors, people of reflection and action. . . . This is our common human task. It is our call to be participators in God’s continuous creation. [1]

After considering the remarkable vision of a dynamic universe, read aloud the following litany.

God, You work . . .

in the accelerating expansion of the universe
in the spiraling of galaxies
in the explosion of supernovas
in the singularity of black holes
in the regularity of the Solar System
in the equilibrium of the Earth’s ecology
in the evolving of a society
. . .
in the functioning of our organs
in the chemical processes within our bodies
in the forces within the atom
in the “weird” behavior of quantum particles
. . .
 

May I sit in wonder that I live entirely within Your Presence everywhere and in everything and everyone. [2]

References:
[1] Denis Edwards, Jesus and the Cosmos (Paulist Press: 1991), 115.

[2] Adapted from Andre Auger, “Given This Universe, What/Who Is God?” Spiritual Practices: An Introduction to Christian Spiritual Practices, http://spiritualpractice.ca/welcome/meditating-on-the-cosmos/13-given-this-universe-whatwho-is-god/.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi (Franciscan Media: 2014), 215-216.

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

Judy Cannato, Quantum Grace: Lenten Reflections on Creation and Connectedness (Ave Maria Press: 2003)

Ilia Delio, The Unbearable Wholeness of Being: God, Evolution, and the Power of Love (Orbis Books: 2013)

“Evolutionary Thinking,” Oneing, vol. 4, no. 2 (CAC Publishing: 2016)

Barbara A. Holmes, Race and the Cosmos: An Invitation to View the World Differently (Trinity Press International: 2002)

Image credit: Starry Night Over the Rhône (detail), Vincent van Gogh, 1888, Musée d’Orsay, Paris, France.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of God’s hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world. —Psalm 19:1-4
Read Full Entry

Cosmology: Part One

Quantum Entanglement
Friday, August 30, 2019

Just as different ways of interpreting scripture and various types of truth (e.g., literal vs. mythic) are valuable for different purposes, so scientific theories have different applications while seeming to be paradoxical and irreconcilable. For example, we have the Newtonian theory of gravity, Einstein’s theory of relativity, and quantum theory. Physicists know that each of them is true, yet they don’t fit together and each is limited and partial. Newtonian mechanics can’t model or predict the behavior of massive or quickly moving objects. Relativity does this well, but doesn’t apply to very, very small things. Quantum mechanics succeeds on the micro level. But we don’t yet have an adequate theory for understanding very energetic, very massive phenomenon, such as black holes. Scientists are still in search of a unified theory of the universe.

Perhaps the term “quantum entanglement” names something that we have long intuited, but science has only recently observed. Here is the principle in everyday language: in the world of quantum physics, it appears that one particle of any entangled pair “knows” what is happening to another paired particle—even though there is no known means for such information to be communicated between the particles, which are separated by sometimes very large distances.

Scientists don’t know how far this phenomenon applies beyond very rare particles, but quantum entanglement hints at a universe where everything is in relationship, in communion, and also where that communion can be resisted (“sin”). Both negative and positive entanglement in the universe matter, maybe even ultimately matter. Prayer, intercession, healing, love and hate, heaven and hell, all make sense on a whole new level. Religion has long pointed to this entanglement. In Paul’s letter to the Romans he says quite clearly “the life and death of each of us has its influence on others” (14:7). The Apostles’ Creed states that we believe in “the communion of saints.” There is apparently a positive inner connectedness that we can draw upon if we wish.

Judy Cannato (1949-2011), a visionary of a “new cosmology,” wrote:

Emergent theories seem to confirm what mystics have been telling us all along—that we are one, not just all human beings, but all creation, the entire universe. As much as we may imagine and act to the contrary, human beings are not the center of the universe—even though we are a vital part of it. Nor are we completely separate from others, but live only in and through a complex set of relationships we hardly notice. Interdependent and mutual connections are integral to all life. . . .

My heart tells me that the new physics is not new at all, but simply expresses in yet another way the fundamental truth that underpins creation. . . . What science is saying is not contradictory to but actually resonates with Christian faith and my own experience of the Holy. As I continue to reflect, the new physics gives a fresh framework from which to consider the action of God’s grace at work in human life. [1]

References:
[1] Judy Cannato, Quantum Grace: Lenten Reflections on Creation and Connectedness (Ave Maria Press: 2003), 13-14.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, “Quantum Entanglement,” The Mendicant, vol. 4, no. 6 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2014), 1.

Image credit: Starry Night Over the Rhône (detail), Vincent van Gogh, 1888, Musée d’Orsay, Paris, France.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of God’s hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world. —Psalm 19:1-4
Read Full Entry

Cosmology: Part One

The Drinking Gourd
Thursday, August 29, 2019

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of God’s hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world. —Psalm 19:1-4

Religion and astronomy have never been too far apart. Throughout time, humans have looked to the night sky for guidance and meaning. Dr. Barbara Holmes writes about the experience of enslaved Africans who were kidnapped from their homes and carried across the ocean. Their sense of reality was displaced, disordered, disrupted. And yet their connection to the cosmos endured. In studying the past, we are better equipped to move into the future. Holmes writes:

Interest in the historical retrieval of sub-Saharan African archaeo-astronomy is relatively recent. But there is evidence of scientific engagement on the African continent that may rival European probes of the cosmos. Whether this information can be recovered is not known at this time [2002], but initial findings are intriguing. Examples of cosmological artifacts have been found at many African sites, including Lake Turkana, the Sudan, Zimbabwe, Mali, and Burkina Faso. . . . The children of the African diaspora should know that their ancestors also looked up and considered the cosmos as an integral part of their lives.

In North America, cosmology played an important part in slave escapes to freedom. They knew that freedom was north, and they knew that the North Star (Polaris) could guide their feet. The North Star is located at the end of the [Little] Dipper. As slaves used hollowed-out gourds to dip water, they renamed the constellation “the drinking gourd” to match their own cultural understandings. However, many natural obstacles stood between the star and the land journey. After a few mishaps, members of the Underground Railroad began to send teachers south to teach the slaves the most advantageous route. . . .

The routes were sometimes taught in coded songs. One particular song is entitled “Follow the Drinking Gourd.”. . . The song taught them to leave during winter so that they would encounter a frozen Ohio River that would be easier to traverse. The words are poignant:

When the sun comes back and the
first quail calls follow the drinking gourd.
For the old man is waiting
for to carry you to freedom,
if you follow the
drinking gourd.

The dead trees show you the way,
left foot, peg foot, traveling on
follow the drinking gourd.

The river ends between two hills.
Follow the drinking gourd.
There’s another river on the other side,
follow the drinking gourd.

Where the great big river meets
the little river, follow the drinking gourd.
For the old man is awaiting to carry
you to freedom if you follow
the drinking gourd.

Once again music, movement, and rhetoric/teaching are the components that liberate. The environmental signposts guide seekers of freedom; the songs connect to the basic elements of spirit and matter.

Reference:
Barbara A. Holmes, Race and the Cosmos: An Invitation to View the World Differently (Trinity Press International: 2002), 83, 85-86.

Image credit: Starry Night Over the Rhône (detail), Vincent van Gogh, 1888, Musée d’Orsay, Paris, France.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of God’s hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world. —Psalm 19:1-4
Read Full Entry

Cosmology: Part One

A Mighty Something
Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Most people believe that physicists are explaining the world. . . . They are only dancing with it. —Gary Zukav [1]

How do we know what is real? I’m sure you’ve heard the story of a group of people who are blind describing an elephant, each from a different vantage. One person, feeling the elephant’s tail, described a rope. Another, arms encircling a leg, said it was like a pillar or tree. And so on. Every viewpoint is a view from a point. The more ways of knowing we use, the closer we come to understanding, and yet the full picture will always elude us. In this way, mystery is endlessly knowable.

Dr. Barbara Holmes points to the many dimensions of reality and invites us to dance—to be in relationship—with the Real. She begins by quoting philosopher Alfred Schutz:

Our primitive impulse is to affirm immediately the reality of all that is conceived, as long as it remains uncontradicted. But there are several, probably an infinite number of various orders of realities, each with its own special and separate style of existence. [2]

From our own experiences we know that reality is not a seamless whole. Multiple realities rise, recede, and eclipse on our cognitive horizons as subuniverses that we inhabit from time to time. . . . The portals to these universes are not always cognitive. Perhaps they can be entered through dance and song and story.

The superstring theory provides useful analogies. . . . Physicist Brian Greene says, “If string theory is right, the microscopic fabric of our universe is a richly intertwined multidimensional labyrinth within which the strings of the universe endlessly twist and vibrate, rhythmically beating out the laws of the cosmos.” [3] The theory speaks of universes coiled into infinitesimal loops that may hold the secrets of all forces in the cosmos. The beauty of the theory is that it is dynamic and rhythmic. It is a resonant and dancing universe that invites us to view its mysteries. . . .

For indigenous people, the stories hint of something unspoken. Theologian Megan McKenna and storyteller Tony Cowan refer to this element as “the thing not named.”

In more theological or religious terms it is the Midrash, the underlying truth, the inspired layers that are hinted at, that invite but do not force themselves upon us. They must be searched out, struggled with and taken to heart. It is, at root, the mystery that makes the story memorable, worth telling over and over again, and staking your life on it. [4]

Hopi elders engage multiplicity by referring to the ineffable as “a mighty something [a’ni himu].” [5] Wisdom instructs the elders that one cannot stake life on limited human perspectives; there must be more. And so the elders inquire into the nature of ontology, social location, and the universe with the humble acceptance of an abiding wonder for “the thing not named.”

References:
[1] Gary Zukav, The Dancing Wu Li Masters: An Overview of the New Physics (Morrow Quill Paperback: 1979), 35.

[2] Alfred Schutz, “On Multiple Ralities,” in The Problem of Social Reality: Collected Papers 1 (Martinus Nijhoff Press: 1962), 207.

[3] Brian Greene, The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory (Vintage Books: 1999), 18.

[4] Megan McKenna and Tony Cowan, Keepers of the Story (Orbis Books: 1997), 66.

[5] See John D. Loftin, Religion and Hopi Life in the Twentieth Century (Indiana University Press: 1991), xv-xvi.

Barbara A. Holmes, Race and the Cosmos: An Invitation to View the World Differently (Trinity Press International: 2002), 81-82.

Image credit: Starry Night Over the Rhône (detail), Vincent van Gogh, 1888, Musée d’Orsay, Paris, France.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of God’s hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world. —Psalm 19:1-4
Read Full Entry

Cosmology: Part One

Holistic Knowing
Tuesday, August 27, 2019

The sciences will just separate the human off and focus on the physical aspects of the universe and the religious traditions will shy away from the universe because that’s reserved for science. So cosmology is an attempt to deal with the whole and the nature of the human in that. —Brian Swimme [1]

Dr. Barbara Holmes is a teacher in our Living School, a former lawyer, professor, and author of several books. In her book Race and the Cosmos, she connects physics, culture, ethics, and spirituality. Here she explores how the synthesis of many ways of knowing was valued by primal and contemporary indigenous communities:

In the earliest of days it was believed that a flat earth and a very present creator capped the creation with a dome that divided waters in a layered firmament. There were no static scientific truths that could be deduced from a firmament that was dependent on the will of God. The flood was proof of that presumption. Human perceptions of the natural order confirmed God’s constant involvement. Waters parted, plagues fell, the sun stood still. The idea of a flat earth offered a stage for the activities of a hands-on God and a cast of lesser divinities. In most instances, the personalities of the gods mimicked human foibles and triumphs.

Other cosmologies were developing at the same time in cultures around the world. Some ancient people envisioned the cosmos “as a ‘cosmic egg,’ sometimes as a bowl carried on the back of a turtle.” [2] In Egypt the cosmological surround was formed by the arched body of the goddess Nut, who leaned over the earth god Geb. Aristotle and Ptolemy honed an earth-centered understanding of the universe that became the dominant perspective of the three monotheistic religions, yet the planets retained the names of the ancient gods. The ability to hold incongruous concepts about reality was a prototype of the uneasy harmony of myth, folly, informed supposition, and observation that engendered shared ideas about the universe.

Indigenous societies include science and theology and all other aspects of their culture as a part of their ordinary discourse, for the sciences have never been alienated from daily life. Ancient cosmologies assure us that reality is relational and will not be discovered through a microscope or an intricate mathematical formula; instead, it may be encoded in each event of creation.

The attempt to separate culture and scientific knowledge began during the Enlightenment. Thousands of years earlier, ancient people considered the earth and the cosmos as a living continuum that sustained and permeated them. They did not separate a belief in the spirits and gods from the change of seasons or the struggle to survive. However, the story was primarily religious. To talk about the scientific methodologies of ethnic people is to talk about origins. From the beginning, the ancestors know intuitively that knowledge can be life-giving, for without it the people perish. By contrast, one of the legacies of the Enlightenment is that knowledge comes in particular forms and from particular cultures; all else is myth and mystery.

References:
[1] Brian Swimme, “The Universe Story as Sacred Story,” in Fugitive Faith: Conversations on Spiritual, Environmental, and Community Renewal, Benjamin Webb, interviewer (Orbis Books: 1998), 133.

[2] R. Hanbury Brown, The Wisdom of Science: Its Relevance to Culture and Religion (Cambridge University Press: 1986), 42.

Adapted from Barbara A. Holmes, Race and the Cosmos: An Invitation to View the World Differently (Trinity Press International: 2002), 79-80.

Image credit: Starry Night Over the Rhône (detail), Vincent van Gogh, 1888, Musée d’Orsay, Paris, France.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of God’s hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world. —Psalm 19:1-4
Read Full Entry

Cosmology: Part One

A New Cosmology
Monday, August 26, 2019

When I was growing up, the common perception was that science and religion were at deep odds with one another. Now that we are coming to understand the magnificent nature of the cosmos, we’re finding that many mystics’ spiritual intuitions are paralleled by scientific theories and explanations. All disciplines, arts, and sciences are just approaching truth from different perspectives. The modern and postmodern mistake is that they only take one or no perspective seriously.

It’s easy to imagine the delight St. Francis of Assisi (1181–1226) found by turning skyward. His first biographer, Thomas of Celano (1185–1260), wrote: “he often overflowed with amazing, unspeakable joy as he looked at the sun, gazed at the moon, or observed the stars in the sky.” [1] Thomas Aquinas also intuited the deep connection between spirituality and science when he wrote, “Any mistake we make about creation will also be a mistake about God.” [2] Inner and outer realities must indeed mirror one another.

Ilia Delio, a Franciscan sister and scientist, observes how our view of the universe and God has been evolving. [3] During the Middle Ages, a key period of development for Christian theology, the universe was thought to be centered around humans and the Earth. Scientists saw the universe as anthropocentric, unchanging, mechanistic, orderly, predictable, and hierarchical. Christians viewed God, the “Prime Mover,” in much the same way, with the same static and predictable characteristics—omnipotent and omniscient, but not really loving. God was “out there” somewhere, separate from us and the universe. The central message of Christianity—incarnation—was not really taken seriously by most Christians. In fact, our whole salvation plan was largely about getting away from this Earth!

Today, we know that the universe is old, large, dynamic, and interconnected. It is about 13.8 billion years old, and some scientists think it could still exist for 100 trillion years. The universe has been expanding since its birth. Our home planet, Earth, far from being the center of the universe, revolves around the Sun, a medium-sized star near the edge of a medium-sized galaxy, the Milky Way, which contains about 200 billion stars. The Milky Way is about 100,000 light years in diameter.

Furthermore, it is one of 100 billion galaxies in the universe. We do not appear to be the center of anything. And yet, by faith we trust that we are.

Delio writes:

We’re reaching a fork in the road; two paths are diverging on planet Earth, and the one we choose will make all the difference for the life of the planet. Shall we continue our medieval religious practices in a medieval paradigm and mechanistic culture and undergo extinction? Or shall we wake up to this dynamic, evolutionary universe and the rise of consciousness toward an integral wholeness? [4]

We are called to make the paradigm shift to an utterly new cosmology and worldview. I believe, even unbeknown to themselves, many are leaving organized Christianity now because these two cosmologies no longer coincide.

References:
[1] Thomas of Celano, The Life of Saint Francis: The First Book, chapter 29. See Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, vol. 1 (New City Press: 1999), 250.

[2] Thomas Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles, II.3.1, II.3.6.

[3] See Ilia Delio, CONSPIRE 2014: A Benevolent Universe (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2014), MP4 video download.

[4] Ilia Delio, The Unbearable Wholeness of Being: God, Evolution, and the Power of Love (Orbis Books: 2013), xxii-xxiii.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi (Franciscan Media: 2014), 169.

Image credit: Starry Night Over the Rhône (detail), Vincent van Gogh, 1888, Musée d’Orsay, Paris, France.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of God’s hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world. —Psalm 19:1-4
Read Full Entry

Cosmology: Part One

The Change of a Worldview
Sunday, August 25, 2019

Today, every academic, professional discipline—psychology, anthropology, history, the various sciences, social studies, art, and business—recognizes change, development, and some kind of evolving phenomenon. But in its search for the Real Absolute, much of Christian theology made one fatal mistake: It imagined that any notion of God had to be unchanging, an “unmoved mover,” as Aristotelian philosophy called it.

There’s little evidence of a rigid God in the biblical tradition or the image of Trinity—where God is seen as an active verb more than a substantive noun. But many Christians seem to have preferred a stable notion of God as an old white man, sitting on a throne—much like the Greek god Zeus (whose name became the Latin word for God or “Deus”)—a critical and punitive spectator to a creation that was merely a mechanical clock of inevitable laws and punishments, ticking away until Doomsday.

We need a new way of thinking about the universe and our place in it. To begin our two weeks on this theme, I offer a clear and concise description of our changing worldview from Australian theologian Denis Edwards (I waited in a long line once just to thank him for his fine work):

Our theological tradition has been shaped within the worldview of a static universe. The great theological synthesis of St. Thomas Aquinas [1224–1274], for example, was formed within a culture which took for granted that the world was fixed and static, that the Sun and the Moon and the five known planet stars revolved around the Earth in seven celestial spheres, moved by angels, that beyond these seven spheres there were the three heavens, the firmament (the starry heaven), the crystalline heaven, and the empyrean, and that there was a place in the heavenly spheres for paradise. It was assumed that human beings were the center of the universe, that Europe was the center of the world, and that the Earth and its resources were immense and without any obvious limits.

By contrast, we are told today that the universe began with a cosmic explosion called the Big Bang, that we live in an expanding universe, with galaxies rushing away from us at an enormous rate, that the Earth is a relatively small planet revolving around the Sun, that it is hurtling through space as part of a Solar system which is situated toward the edge of the Milky Way galaxy, that we human beings are the product of an evolutionary movement on the Earth, and that we are intimately linked with the health of the delicately balanced life systems on our planet.

The shift between these two mindsets is enormous. It needs to be stressed that most of our tradition has been shaped by the first of these, and even contemporary theology has seldom dealt explicitly with the change to a new mindset. . . . We have no choice but to face up to the ecological crisis which confronts us. Religious thinkers . . . are searching for a new synthesis of science and faith, a new cosmology, and a “new story.” [1]

References:
[1] Denis Edwards, Jesus and the Cosmos (Paulist Press: 1991), 3-5.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, “Evolution Is Another Name for Growth,” “Evolutionary Thinking,” Oneing, vol. 4, no. 2 (CAC Publishing: 2016), 111-112.

Image credit: Starry Night Over the Rhône (detail), Vincent van Gogh, 1888, Musée d’Orsay, Paris, France.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of God’s hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world. —Psalm 19:1-4
Read Full Entry
FacebookTwitterEmailPrint