Current conversations between mystic and physicist, theologian and cosmologist, are revealing undreamt-of possibilities for the story of our faith. (Daniel O’Leary)
We have been exploring the Powers of the Universe as described and reflected upon by Evolutionary Cosmologist Brian Swimme, In 1992 Swimme, with Thomas Berry, wrote The Universe Story.
Have you wondered how these astounding discoveries about the origins of the universe impact two thousand years of Christian belief?
Writing in The Tablet (UK pub.) in August 2014, Daniel O’Leary offers these insights:
Many Christians are astonished at the revelations of twentieth-century science, much of what is now known as the “New Universe Story”. These revelations encourage us to reflect more thoroughly on St Thomas Aquinas’ reminder that God is revealed in both the book of nature and of the Scriptures.
For too long the two stories have collided with each other. But both the love story revealed in the orthodox theology of Creation, and the emerging stories about our evolving world, reveal a fundamental interconnectedness and integration.
“Geologian” Fr Thomas Berry wrote that “we bear the universe in our being as the universe bears us in its being”. In humanity the evolving universe becomes conscious of, and celebrates, itself. These glimpses of mystery both challenge and excite us.
Christians are now called to a new level of consciousness about God’s loving energy in the first “flaring forth” nearly 14 billion years ago, and in the subsequent process of evolution. Every particle of Creation is imbued with divine love-energy and is an incarnate expression of God’s own creativity. A fundamental concept is that we all flow from one source, one relatively simple particle; some will see it as the process of evolution, others the work of the Holy Spirit.
Theologian Elizabeth Johnson’s new book, Ask the Beasts: Darwin and the God of love, seeks an understanding of faith that embraces the remarkable findings of science. She wrote: “Far from being in competition with the laws of nature acting around us, the hand of the God of love empowers the cosmos as it evolves. The world develops in an economy of divine superabundance, gifted with its own freedom, and in and through which the Creator Spirit’s gracious purpose is accomplished.”
It may well be that our future lies not so much in an invisible Heaven outside time but in this world clearly understood, lived and transformed. “Earth is a physical place of extravagant dynamism that bodies forth the gracious presence of God,” wrote Johnson. “In its own way it is a sacrament and a revelation … The creating God as sustaining power and goal of the evolving world acts by empowering the process from within.”
In The Emergent Christ, scientist and Franciscan Sr Ilia Delio also called for a transformation in our consciousness as the Church merges into the framework of a new cosmology. She quoted paleontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin SJ: “Creation and incarnation are two moments of the one act of God’s self-giving love … There is a deep compatibility between Christianity and evolution.” St Thomas Aquinas warned us that “if we get Creation wrong we get God wrong”.
The evolutionary process towards deeper expressions of beauty and goodness is guided by the careful, absolute love of God. To reject evolution, according to Teilhard de Chardin, is to reject God, because evolution is love incarnate. He called for Christians to “divinise” the earth by our consciousness of being at the heart of evolution, and by blessing and ¬facilitating its unfolding in our commitment to peace, compassion, justice and creativity. “We who are baptised into cosmic evolution have a responsibility to evolve and to help this Creation evolve towards unity,” wrote Delio.
So much of the mystery is about inter¬relatedness. Theologian Rudolf Bultmann wrote that the light that shone in Jesus first shone in Creation. Jesus is a unique evolutionary step in the development of humankind, embracing the world from the very beginning. “In this respect, the whole of Creation beginning with the Big Bang is ¬incarnation,” wrote Delio. When we talk about incarnation, we are talking about Creation – God’s dynamic Word uttered into time and space in the first nanosecond of existence.
Evolution…is not background to the human story; it is the human story, the unfinished process of continuing incarnation. It is profoundly changing our understanding of the world, the Church, ourselves and God. And the Risen Christ is the unifying heart of it all.
“Resurrection is a qualitative leap in the history of evolution towards a new world which already permeates this world of ours, transforms it and draws it to itself …” wrote Pope John Paul II. In Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis wrote of a love that encircles the world like an irresistible force field “secretly woven into the fabric of history”.
For believers, these insights may first threaten, then challenge, and finally transform their relationship with the God of all Creation.
In “Canticle to the Cosmos”, cosmologist Brian Swimme wrote that every child should be told this: “You come out of the energy that gave birth to the universe. Its story is your story; its beginning is your beginning.” Children’s hearts will recognise these wondrous words, and will soon learn to protect and to nourish the loving, evolving heart of their divine Mother Earth. And then to adore.
(excerpts from “Divine Evolution” The Tablet 21 August 2014 by Daniel O’Leary)