Monday, November 7, 2011

At Home in the Universe: Reflections on the 2011 Soul Conference

Wisdom Ways Center for Spirituality's annual Soul Conference took place at the Carondolet Center in St. Paul, MN, on Saturday, November 5. Following are three attendee's reflections on this year's gathering.


We humans, aware of ourselves as experiencing subjects, are the heart and mind of the universe. We are the universe becoming aware of its self. From the primal flaring forth of energy and matter (Brian Swimme’s term for the Big Bang) billions of years ago, the matter that makes up everything including our bodies exploded in space. And within all matter, in increasing degrees of interiority, the “within of things” drives evolution toward ever greater complexity and differentiation to the emergence of dreaming, thinking, communicating creatures on this exquisitely conditioned third rock from the sun, the planet Earth. The odds against it almost infinite. This interior principle of discernment pushing development forward produced a “communion of subjectivity,” a universe of connectedness.

The premier of the film Journey of the Universe played to a full house at Jeanne d”Arc auditorium at St. Catherine’s University on Friday evening, November 4. Filmed in the Greek island of Samos, the story of cosmogenesis was narrated by Brian Swimme, scripted by him and Mary Evelyn Tucker, and presented by Tucker and her husband John Grim, a graduate of St. John’s in Collegeville, 1968. Tucker and Grim have dual appointments in the schools of divinity and forestry and environmental studies at Yale University. It was co-sponsored by Wisdom Ways Center for Spirituality and the Masters in Theology Program at St. Catherine University.

On Saturday morning, the 18th Annual Wisdom Ways Soul Conference continued with Tucker and Grim talking about the film’s genesis. Thomas Berry, (1914-2009) mentor to both Tucker and Grim and author of The New Story, was a cultural historian, student and friend of the Jesuit paleontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955) whose work inspires the view of purpose-driven evolutionary processes. Berry identified himself as growing out of the farmland of North Carolina — the meadow across the stream. His vision was that ethics and politics should nurture that meadow.

This one-with-the-earth sensibility inspires Tucker and Grim to seek their own authenticity, and suggest that others do too, in relation to a “meadow”, a place where the person feels her/himself to be at home, empowered as an agent in the universe. Berry once reminded Grim what Virgil said to Dante: “I crown and mitre you Lord of yourself.” As an ethical and political agent, each of us has to grow in consciousness of our earth connectedness and make choices that nurture the “meadow.”

The filmmakers’ purpose is to share a vision of the human race as organically and spiritually one with the ecological systems of the earth so that we and future generations will work to reverse the devastation overcrowding and spiritual alienation have caused—polluted water, extinction of animal species, deforestation. The litany of ecological disasters is well known, but the vision to inspire cultural change is still weak. Therefore, the film focuses on inspiration and less on the devastation. The film, a book by the same authors, and a study curriculum based on both, are available on the website You can commit to the Earth Charter at Mary Evelyn Tucker was on the drafting committee and is on the Council for the Earth Charter Initiative.

The bit about ethics and politics having to nurture the meadow hit home with me. We need a cultural transformation – a realignment of minds and hearts—to bring us home in the universe so we can understand and heal the biosphere. There seems to be an ever increasing number of people who are conscious of the divine “within of things,” people whose zest for life, whose selfhood radiate freedom, equality, justice and loving-care. All the institutions (read economic systems, educational systems, justice systems) whose policies and practices do not nurture the meadow will have to undertake intentional transformation or be torn with conflict.

Can we look to our churches? Institutional churches are in the business of cultural transformation. When I told Mary Evelyn Tucker that I belong to a group called Catholic Coalition for Church Reform and that I believe the incarnational, global, Roman Catholic Church could restore the planet if it transformed itself, she hugged me and said, “It would help if the Pope wrote an encyclical.” And it would help if every bishop would turn to his people and ask, “What do we need to do to serve the expanding consciousness of the people for the preservation and restoration of the planet?” Since we are, along with the bishops, the Roman Catholic Church, I guess we have to “crown and mitre” ourselves, and set about the task of raising our own consciousness.

– Paula Ruddy

Two thoughts emerged from the conference for me. One is "the within"of living things and the other is "direction." We are living in a time of struggle. Our two major institutions, the church and the state, are experiencing division and the consequent tensions. The divisions are deep and wide accompanied with a lack of mutual understanding, tolerance, and cooperation. One word that best describes our struggle is direction. We seem to have lost a sense of direction.

Yet there is the fact that all living things have a within and a without. The within drives the life force (élan vital) towards an outcome (entelechy). For example, the caterpillar spins a cocoon for itself and emerges as a butterfly. This process applies to the union of the sperm and egg that evolves into a living body. In nature the within of a living thing has direction which does not end in the emergence of the without. That stage also has a within which is evolving. It now takes on the dimension of duration. The process of becoming a butterfly or a living body may have a limited duration; however, the within of that living thing continues to function so that this "living force" continues its direction to the next outcome.

We have empirical evidence for this seemingly slow process in the human species. We have fossils of very early life forms that demonstrate this slow duration, and we have remains of species that predate our own but are fundamental to our species. We have remains of homo erectus, homo faber, and Neanderthal hominids that are a part of our story. This is an example of our "within" that has evolved over thousands of years of duration. We have been led to believe that this process has reached its final outcome in our species, homo sapiens sapiens, because of our Newtonian, static view of our world. Our present stage in our species is what we have become, not what we are evolving into.

The cosmos is dynamic not static. It is in a continual state of expansion, and we have evidence for this today. The world in which we live and the species we enjoy are evolving and have an inner direction, a within.

The Buddha taught us 2500 years ago that all is "dukha," all is struggle. The struggle we experience is intense and seemingly without direction; however, when we take the long view of our story and the story of the universe we do see direction. What we do not see clearly is the outcome, and for us that is extremely uncomfortable.

– Donald Conroy

I came away from the Soul Conference, featuring the film Journey of the Universe and its co-producers Mary Evelyn Tucker and John Grim, enthused and hopeful for our planet and for the reality of unfolding spiritual awakening on this expanding universe. Brian Swimme narrates with spectacular filming the unfolding universe from the beginning of time where the galaxies were sent in motion creating an expanding universe. He invites us to be “guided by wonder.” Guided by wonder, wow! To be touched by the magnificence of this universe as science points to its discoveries of patterns and processes that touch all of earth’s diverse inhabitants and draw us into amazement of the self organizing processes that impact our evolution. The film points to a pulsating, alive universe that we are intricately connected within our own evolution where our acts also affects its evolution.

Tucker and Grim reflected on their work and expressed gratitude to Teilhard de Chardin and Thomas Berry for their profound influence on their work. They related the importance of: 1) Perspective – an awareness of the complexities and evolution of the earth and its inhabitants that has been discovered by science, 2) Purpose – questioning where do we get our grounding and what attracts or allures us in activating our self organizing processes, 3) Prayer – touched and in communion with the cosmic consciousness of Christ in all creation and the Logos of our reality and 4) Participation – our involvement in engaging in creating the Divine milieu.

A key point was how union requires differentiation in order to be known and how over time simple processes become complex. We also were reminded to “sit up straight,” to engage and be awake to this unfolding reality. We live in very complex and diverse times where we all are essential to this unfolding.

Science and theology provide portals to our human existence. Their inter-relationship is becoming more and more conscious. We are becoming increasingly aware of the ecological crisis that threatens life as we have known it. We also are in a period where the political realities are often locked in polarizations with potentially devastating consequences. Our churches have been one of the conduits where Wisdom and the hunger for Truth have been passed through the ages as well as guides to how we live our lives. They have also been containers of prejudice and fragmentation of truth creating distortions which foment war and human suffering. May we as a people of this amazing and diverse universe, gathered in our communities of church, be humble enough to listen to the teachings of the Cosmic Christ and listen to what are our self organizing processes and what they can be so that we emerge as a church at this stage of our evolution immersed in the union of Love.

– Karin Grosscup

No comments:

Post a Comment