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Nature, Cosmos, and Connection

Nature, Cosmos, and Connection

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Week Seven Summary and Practice

Sunday, February 14—Friday, February 19, 2021

Sunday
Once we know that the entire physical world around us, all of creation, is both the hiding place and the revelation place for God, this world becomes home, safe, enchanted, offering grace to any who look deeply.

Monday
The old story was of victimization, marginalization, oppression, oppressors; and the new story would see all of us evolving, self-expanding, and finding a new place in this wonderful cosmology that is a reality we have not paid attention to. —Barbara Holmes

Tuesday
The Great Chain of Being of the early Middle Ages was a cosmic egg of meaning, a vision of Creator and a multitude of creatures that excluded nothing.

Wednesday
The world insists that we are what we do and achieve, but contemplation invites us to practice under-doing and under-achieving, reminding us of the simple grace and humility of being human.

Thursday
The moral covenant of reciprocity calls us to honor our responsibilities for all we have been given, for all that we have taken. —Robin Wall Kimmerer

Friday
Prayer is the movement of the heart of a person toward God; a movement that in a sense is within God—God in the heart sharing its life with God the Creator of all Life. —Howard Thurman

 

Being Here

The natural world has so much to teach us about God, ourselves, and our connection to one another. Scholar and artist Alexis Pauline Gumbs shares wisdom from dolphins:  

Here we are, where presence meets offering, looking to Indus river dolphins who live by constantly using sound to mark where they are. . . . What could it mean to be present with each other across time and space and difference? Presence is interpersonal and interspecies and intergalactic, in some ways eternal. How can we rethink our presence on the planet and its precarity by paying attention to how the Indus dolphins have brought themselves back from the brink of extinction? Could we learn to love the humpback whale beyond its marketable mythology and love ourselves beyond what capitalism tells us is valuable about being us? Marine mammal mentorship offers us the chance for presence as celebration, as survival and its excess, as more than we even know how to love about ourselves and each other.

Most cetaceans have a crystalline lens over their eyes so they can see underwater. The South Asian river dolphins do not. Also the water moves so quickly, and is so full and turbid that not much would be visible if they were looking with their eyes. So they look instead with their voices.

The Indus and Ganges river dolphins live in sound. They make sound constantly, echolocating day and night. In a quickly moving environment they ask where, again where, again where.

The poem of the Indus river dolphin is the ongoing sound of here, a sonic consciousness of what surrounds them, a form of reflective presence. Here.

The home of the Indus river dolphin has gone through many manmade changes. . . . . Through all of it, the Indus river dolphin, who clicks all day and night, has been saying, here. Here. Here. Here. In a language I want to learn. . . .

In the language I was raised in, “here” means “this place where we are,” and it also means “here” as in “I give this to you.” Could I learn from the Indus river dolphin a language of continuous presence and offering? A language that brings a species back from the brink, a life-giving language? Could I learn that? Could we learn that? We who click a different way, on linked computers day and night? . . .

What I want to say to you . . . requires me to reshape my forehead, my lungs. It requires me to redistribute my dependence on visual information. So I will close my eyes and say it: Here. Here I am. Here I am with you. Here is all of me. And here we are. Here. Inside this blinding presence. Here. A constant call in a moving world. Here. All of it. Here. Here. Humbly listening towards home. And here. And here. Right here. My poem for you. My offered presence. This turbid life. Yes. Here you go.

How might we offer to be “here” for ourselves, someone else, or the world around us today?

Experience a version of this practice through video and sound.

Reference:
Alexis Pauline Gumbs, Undrowned: Black Feminist Lessons from Marine Mammals (AK Press: 2020), 67‒69.

Image credit: Warren K. Leffler, Demonstrators sit, with their feet in the Reflecting Pool, during the March on Washington, 1963 (detail), photograph, public domain.
Image inspiration:  When we look at nature do we think of the cosmos? When we look at the cosmos does it bring nature to mind? We are intimately connected on micro and macro scales beyond our human capacity to understand. We sit together to rest our feet, in the midst of nature, cosmos and great shifts in consciousness.
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Nature, Cosmos, and Connection

The “Givenness of God”
Friday, February 19, 2021

To Jesus, God was Creator of life and the living substance, the Living Stream upon which all things moved, the Mind containing time, space, and all their multitudinous offspring. And beyond all these, He was Friend and Father. —Howard Thurman, Disciplines of the Spirit

The work of theologian Howard Thurman was heavily influenced by his own mystical experiences. From a very young age, he felt God’s real and loving presence, whether he was on the water, in the garden, or looking up at the night sky. He knew he lived in a safe and sacred universe and this Big-T Truth became the foundation of all of his teaching. Like Jesus, the mystics, and all great teachers, Thurman takes what is personal and makes it universal. Walter Brueggemann calls this “the scandal of particularity.” [1] We “get it” in one ordinary, concrete moment and wrestle and fall in love with it there. It’s a scandal precisely because it’s so ordinary. What is true in one place finally ends up being true everywhere. In this passage, Thurman applies this youthful lesson to prayer:

One night I was awakened by my mother, who asked if I would like to see the comet [Halley’s Comet]. I got up, dressed quickly, and went out with her into the back yard. There I saw in the heavens the awesome tail of the comet and stood transfixed. With deep anxiety I asked, without taking my eyes off it, “What will happen to us when that thing falls out of the sky?” There was a long silence during which I felt the gentle pressure of her fingers on my shoulders; then I looked into her face and saw what I had seen on another occasion, when without knocking I had rushed into her room and found her in prayer. At last she said, “Nothing will happen to us, Howard. God will take care of us.” In that moment something was touched and kindled in me, a quiet reassurance that has never quite deserted me. As I look back on it, what I sensed then was the fact that what stirred in me was one with what created and controlled the comet. It was this inarticulate awareness that silenced my fear and stilled my panic.

Here at once is the primary ground and basis of people’s experience of prayer. I am calling it, for the purpose of this discussion, the “givenness of God” as expressed in the hunger of the heart. This is native to personality, and when it becomes part of a person’s conscious focus it is prayer at its best and highest. It is the movement of the heart of a person toward God; a movement that in a sense is within God—God in the heart sharing its life with God the Creator of all Life. The hunger itself is God, calling to God.

References:
[1] Walter Brueggemann, The Message of the Psalms: A Theological Commentary (Augsburg Publishing House: 1984), 162.

Howard Thurman, Disciplines of the Spirit (Friends United Press: 1963), 86–87. Note: Minor edits made to incorporate gender-inclusive language.

Story from Our Community:
These daily readings on the cosmos really resonate with me. When out under a dark quiet night sky observing everything I am struck with such wonder and serenity that it feels truly mystical. Although a science-based hobby, astronomy had certainly impacted my spiritual life and has made me completely in awe of the immensity of God. —Barry D.

Image credit: Warren K. Leffler, Demonstrators sit, with their feet in the Reflecting Pool, during the March on Washington, 1963 (detail), photograph, public domain.
Image inspiration:  When we look at nature do we think of the cosmos? When we look at the cosmos does it bring nature to mind? We are intimately connected on micro and macro scales beyond our human capacity to understand. We sit together to rest our feet, in the midst of nature, cosmos and great shifts in consciousness.
Read Full Entry

Nature, Cosmos, and Connection

The Reciprocity of the Universe
Thursday, February 18, 2021

The bloodline of God is connected to everything . . . shells on the ocean shore, the mushrooms growing in the forest, the trees stretching to the clouds, the tiniest speck of snow in the winter, and our dust-to-dustness—we are all connected and tethered to this sacred gift of creation. —Kaitlin B. Curtice, Native: Identity, Belonging, and Rediscovering God

In cultures that have kept alive the knowledge that we are all one, woven in the same fabric of life (what I referred to earlier this week as “the Great Chain of Being”), people honor the reciprocity of the universe through ritual and tradition. Botanist and member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation Robin Wall Kimmerer elaborates on this teaching:

The ceremonial giveaway is an echo of our oldest teachings.

Generosity is simultaneously a moral and a material imperative, especially among people who live close to the land and know its waves of plenty and scarcity. Where the well-being of one is linked to the well-being of all. Wealth among traditional people is measured by having enough to give away. Hoarding the gift, we become constipated with wealth, bloated with possessions, too heavy to join the dance. . . .

I don’t know the origin of the giveaway, but I think that we learned it from watching the plants, especially the berries who offer up their gifts all wrapped in red and blue. We may forget the teacher, but our language remembers: our word for the giveaway, minidewak, means “they give from the heart.” At the word’s center lives the word min. Min is a root word for gift, but it is also the word for berry. In the poetry of our language, might speaking of minidewak remind us to be as the berries?

The berries are always present at our ceremonies. They join us in a wooden bowl. One big bowl and one big spoon, which are passed around the circle, so that each person can taste the sweetness, remember the gifts, and say thank you. . . . The generosity of the earth is not an invitation to take it all. Every bowl has a bottom. When it’s empty, it’s empty. . . .

How do we refill the empty bowl? Is gratitude alone enough? Berries teach us otherwise. . . . The berries trust that we will uphold our end of the bargain and disperse their seeds to new places to grow. . . . They remind us that all flourishing is mutual. We need the berries and the berries need us. Their gifts multiply by our care for them, and dwindle from our neglect. We are bound in a covenant of reciprocity, a pact of mutual responsibility to sustain those who sustain us. And so the empty bowl is filled. . . .

The moral covenant of reciprocity calls us to honor our responsibilities for all we have been given, for all that we have taken. It’s our turn now, long overdue. . . . Whatever our gift, we are called to give it and to dance for the renewal of the world.

Reference:
Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants (Milkweed Editions: 2013), 381, 382, 384.

Story from Our Community:
These daily readings on the cosmos really resonate with me. When out under a dark quiet night sky observing everything I am struck with such wonder and serenity that it feels truly mystical. Although a science-based hobby, astronomy had certainly impacted my spiritual life and has made me completely in awe of the immensity of God. —Barry D.

Image credit: Warren K. Leffler, Demonstrators sit, with their feet in the Reflecting Pool, during the March on Washington, 1963 (detail), photograph, public domain.
Image inspiration:  When we look at nature do we think of the cosmos? When we look at the cosmos does it bring nature to mind? We are intimately connected on micro and macro scales beyond our human capacity to understand. We sit together to rest our feet, in the midst of nature, cosmos and great shifts in consciousness.
Read Full Entry

Nature, Cosmos, and Connection

A Cosmology of Connection
Wednesday, February 17, 2021
Ash Wednesday

Christians often use the season of Lent (which begins today), the six and a half weeks preceding Easter, to reconnect with God and the fullness of our own humanity—the good and the bad—in some intentional way. The act doesn’t need to be sacrificial or impressive, but I’ve found that some form of contemplative practice, reflection, or commitment is a wonderful way to draw closer to God during this time. The world insists that we are what we do and achieve, but contemplation invites us to practice under-doing and under-achieving, and reminds us of the simple grace and humility of being human. I offer you this description from Barbara Holmes about her own nature-based contemplative practice.

One of the ways I practice contemplation in my life is through fishing. It’s the space and the place where I find a real connection through the ocean, the waves, the sound of the water, the birds diving, and the struggle with the adversary, which is the fish. Now, normally we throw them back, but on occasion we bless them for giving us nurture and nourishment and we keep them.

I fish with my husband George. Because I am one of the Gullah [1] women who is a shaman in my family, I am really open. So I don’t look at a lot of violent movies and I don’t like to kill things and I can’t put live bait on. And I can’t take hooks out of fish that are wishing they could live. All of those sensitivities make this a practice that I need a partner for. And my husband George loves to be in support of it, so we don’t talk a lot. We commune, we listen to music sometimes, other times not. But it’s being in the cycle of life and enjoying that struggle. And enjoying giving life back and releasing some. And realizing that this is the dream that I asked God for long ago. And so God’s grace for me has been that my husband and I live out a dream I’ve had since I was a child, to breathe salt air, and to just learn how to be.

My parents had to struggle. Suddenly Martin Luther King had opened a way. And the cheer and the rallying cry behind us was “Go as far as you can go. Go as fast as you can go. Get as many degrees as you can. You now have a chance to be somebody!” And I ran at it as hard as I could and I got as many degrees as I could, and three or four careers. But to just be is such a blessing!

I suppose the equivalent of Barbara’s fishing in my life would be walking my dog. It really can be a contemplative practice where I engage with God, with nature, and with my own beloved friend, Opie. I’m not really doing anything. I’m just being me and being in love with the world.

References:
[1] Barbara writes of her family origins in her book Joy Unspeakable: “My father was the son of Geechees, also known as Gullah people. They were rice growers transported to the Deep South from the coastal areas of West Africa, most probably Sierra Leone.” Barbara A. Holmes, Joy Unspeakable: Contemplative Practices of the Black Church, 2nd ed. (Fortress Press: 2017), xxviii.

Barbara A. Holmes, Introduction, Race and the Cosmos, unpublished Living School curriculum (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2019).

Story from Our Community:
I find myself more deeply connected to Nature during this pandemic. I pick dandelions, taste honeysuckle, sit by the river and listen to the song of its brown, muddy waters and then sing a song of my own. I come home from my outdoor wanderings with a heart full of gratitude for this beautiful world that gives and gives and gives. I pray that we will become better caregivers for the Earth. —Diane B.

Image credit: Warren K. Leffler, Demonstrators sit, with their feet in the Reflecting Pool, during the March on Washington, 1963 (detail), photograph, public domain.
Image inspiration:  When we look at nature do we think of the cosmos? When we look at the cosmos does it bring nature to mind? We are intimately connected on micro and macro scales beyond our human capacity to understand. We sit together to rest our feet, in the midst of nature, cosmos and great shifts in consciousness.
Read Full Entry

Nature, Cosmos, and Connection

The Great Chain of Being
Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Francis would call creatures, no matter how small, by the name of “brother” or “sister,” because he knew they shared with him the same beginning. —Bonaventure, The Life of Blessed Francis

I would like to reclaim an ancient, evolving, and very Franciscan metaphor: the Great Chain of Being. This image helps us rightly name the nature of the universe, God, and the self, and to direct our future thinking.

Scholastic theologians tried to communicate a linked and coherent world through this image. The essential and unbreakable links in the chain include the Divine Creator, the angelic heaven, the human, the animal, the world of vegetation, all water, and planet Earth itself with its minerals. In themselves, and in their union together, they proclaim the glory of God (please read Psalm 104 and Daniel 3:51-90, which make this explicit) and the inherent dignity of all things. This became the basis for calling anything and everything sacred.

What some now call creation spirituality, deep ecology, or holistic gospel actually found a much earlier voice in the spirituality of the ancient Celts, the Rhineland mystics, and, most especially, Saints Francis of Assisi (1182–1226) and Bonaventure (1217–1274). Women like Hildegard of Bingen (1098–1179) communicated it through music, art, poetry, and community life itself.

The Great Chain of Being of the early Middle Ages was a positive intellectual vision not defined by being against another or having enemies, but by the clarity and beauty of form. It was a cosmic egg of meaning, a vision of Creator and a multitude of creatures that excluded nothing. The Great Chain of Being was the first holistic metaphor for the new seeing offered us by the Incarnation: Jesus as the living icon of integration, “the coincidence of opposites” who “holds all things in unity” within himself (Colossians 1:15–20). God is One. Each one of us is a reflecting mirror of that wholeness and so is everything else. Science now has at least a couple of words that try to describe the same in the whole universe: holons and fractals.

Sadly, we seldom saw the Catholic synthesis move beyond philosophers’ books and mystics’ prayers. The rest of us Catholics often remained in a fragmented and dualistic world. We have been unwilling to see the Divine Image in those we judge to be inferior or unworthy: sinners, heretics, animals, things growing from Earth, and the Earth itself. Once the Great Chain of Being was broken, we were soon unable to see the Divine Image in our own species, except for people just like us. Then it was only a short time before the Enlightenment and modern secularism denied the whole heavenly sphere—a denial unknown in any culture except the recent West—which finally led to a denial of Divinity itself. The chain fell apart.

Reference:
Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Wisdom Pattern: Order, Disorder, Reorder (Franciscan Media: 2001, 2020), 148–149.

Story from Our Community:
I find myself more deeply connected to Nature during this pandemic. I pick dandelions, taste honeysuckle, sit by the river and listen to the song of its brown, muddy waters and then sing a song of my own. I come home from my outdoor wanderings with a heart full of gratitude for this beautiful world that gives and gives and gives. I pray that we will become better caregivers for the Earth. —Diane B.

Image credit: Warren K. Leffler, Demonstrators sit, with their feet in the Reflecting Pool, during the March on Washington, 1963 (detail), photograph, public domain.
Image inspiration:  When we look at nature do we think of the cosmos? When we look at the cosmos does it bring nature to mind? We are intimately connected on micro and macro scales beyond our human capacity to understand. We sit together to rest our feet, in the midst of nature, cosmos and great shifts in consciousness.
Read Full Entry

Nature, Cosmos, and Connection

New Language for a New Story
Monday, February 15, 2021

The Spirit whispers,
the ancestors agree. 
You are star born
and God loved;
The universe awaits 
your gifts. —Barbara Holmes, Race and the Cosmos

The addition of Barbara Holmes to the CAC’s Living School has been a gift, with her wonderful teachings on the origins of the universe and what they have to teach us about our future. In this passage from a lecture given at the Living School in 2019, Barbara shares the internal shift that led her to write her book Race and the Cosmos:

Writing Race and the Cosmos was actually my own transformation and awakening. . . .  As I considered it, the truth of the matter was that we were living within an old story; and a new story needed to be told, but we didn’t have the language for it.

The old story was of victimization, marginalization, oppression, oppressors; and the new story would see all of us evolving, self-expanding, and finding a new place in this wonderful cosmology that is a reality we have not paid attention to. So, in order to get to that point—and here is where my transformation begins—I had to reconsider what I thought about people, because I had hardened my view of others and who they were and what they meant. I had spent my time raising two little African American boys who had to be taught how to survive in society. In doing that, I taught them to view the world in only one way; and I myself was hardened into a position that either you were with me or you were against me or us.

All of that had to change. I had to begin to think of us as spiritual beings having a human experience, and not bodily, embodied folks without spirit or soul. . . . That’s a very limited view of humankind, and I wanted to expand the story. . . .

Richard here: Barbara brilliantly turned to the languages of science, cosmology, and physics to expand our view of humanity.

The physics and cosmology revolution that is 100 years old has not been translated into the ordinary world of any of us, and specifically not in communities of color. The world that scientists describe now is so different than the world that I grew up in or even imagined. According to physicists, this is what the world is like: it is a universe permeated with movement and energy that vibrates and pulses with access to many dimensions. . . . We are all interconnected, not just spiritually or imaginally, but actually . . . and the explicate [or manifested] order that’s all around us makes us think that we’re separate. Finally, I learned that ideas of dominance are predicated on a Newtonian clockwork universe. So, like dominoes, you push one and they all fall down, and everything is in order. But quantum physics tells us that the world is completely different. Particles burst into existence in unpredictable ways, observations affect the observed, and dreams of order and rationality are not the building blocks of the universe.

Reference:
Barbara A. Holmes, Lecture 1, Race and the Cosmos, unpublished Living School curriculum (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2019).

Story from Our Community:
During this time of having lost so much of our regular activity, we have ironically gained so much by focusing on what really matters—our relationship with the Creator. This relationship for me is through everything that is created and everything we experience, including looking into the cosmos where we ALL belong. —Jim H.

Image credit: Warren K. Leffler, Demonstrators sit, with their feet in the Reflecting Pool, during the March on Washington, 1963 (detail), photograph, public domain.
Image inspiration:  When we look at nature do we think of the cosmos? When we look at the cosmos does it bring nature to mind? We are intimately connected on micro and macro scales beyond our human capacity to understand. We sit together to rest our feet, in the midst of nature, cosmos and great shifts in consciousness.
Read Full Entry

Nature, Cosmos, and Connection

All Creation Has Soul
Sunday, February 14, 2021

Nature itself was the first Bible. Before there was the written Bible, there was the Bible in things that are made. This creation starts with being very good (Genesis 1:31). We come to God through things as they are; spirituality is about sinking back into the Source of everything. We’re already there, but we have too little practice seeing ourselves there. God, in Christ, is in all, and through all, and with all (see 1 Corinthians 15:28; Colossians 3:11). We call this the Universal Christ or another name for every thing—in its fullness.

A spirituality of the Universal Christ is at the same time a creation spirituality. It allows you to start seeing your own soul imaged and given back to you in the soul of everything else. All of creation has soul! The Latin word for soul is anima, which became animal in English. This earth is participating in the mystery of redemption, liberation, and salvation. The whole creation is groaning in one great act of giving birth (see Romans 8:22). The whole thing is being reborn, re-covenanted, and realigned. Instead of seeing natural things as merely objects to be used, we must allow nature to enchant us.

This week we will be featuring authors of color, people who, like Jesus, see God in everything. Howard Thurman (1900–1981), the Black mystic, theologian, and spiritual guide for Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement, shares his early experiences of God:

The true purpose of all spiritual disciplines is to clear away whatever may block our awareness of that which is God in us. . . .

It will be in order to suggest certain simple aids to this end. One of these is the practice of silence, or quiet. As a child I was accustomed to spend many hours alone in my rowboat, fishing along the river, when there was no sound save the lapping of the waves against the boat. There were times when it seemed as if the earth and the river and the sky and I were one beat of the same pulse. It was a time of watching and waiting for what I did not know—yet I always knew. There would come a moment when beyond the single pulse beat there was a sense of Presence which seemed always to speak to me. My response to the sense of Presence always had the quality of personal communion. There was no voice. There was no image. There was no vision. There was God. [1]

As G. K. Chesterton observed, “A religion is not the church [one] goes to, but the cosmos [one] lives in.” [2] Once we know that the entire physical world around us, all of creation, is both the hiding place and the revelation place for God, this world becomes home, safe, enchanted, offering grace to any who look deeply. I call that kind of deep and calm seeing “contemplation.”

References:
[1] Howard Thurman, Disciplines of the Spirit (Harper and Row: 1963), 96.

[2] G. K. Chesterton, Irish Impressions (John Lane Company: 1919), 215.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope for, and Believe (Convergent: 2019), 5, 6–7; and

The New Cosmology: Nature as the First Bible (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2009), CD, MP3 download.

Story from Our Community:
During this time of having lost so much of our regular activity, we have ironically gained so much by focusing on what really matters—our relationship with the Creator. This relationship for me is through everything that is created and everything we experience, including looking into the cosmos where we ALL belong. —Jim H.

Image credit: Warren K. Leffler, Demonstrators sit, with their feet in the Reflecting Pool, during the March on Washington, 1963 (detail), photograph, public domain.
Image inspiration:  When we look at nature do we think of the cosmos? When we look at the cosmos does it bring nature to mind? We are intimately connected on micro and macro scales beyond our human capacity to understand. We sit together to rest our feet, in the midst of nature, cosmos and great shifts in consciousness.
Read Full Entry
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