I’d like to begin with a question: Why are we doing this? Why are we looking at science for a greater understanding of God? Why aren’t we looking at THEOLOGY?
The answer is very simple: because our understanding of the universe, of the earth and its creatures, is the background, the model, for the way we organize our thoughts, of the earth, of each other – and of God.
What does this mean? Look at a paper with the sand on it – Swirl the sand around so it is spread out on the paper.
Now focus on a grain of sand at the center.
Imagine that that grain of sand is our world – and everything around it, centers around it and flows out from it. That makes us, humans, very important, doesn’t it? This is what the writers of the Old Testament believed – and this is the understanding upon which they based their relationship with God. Yet now we know that this concept is not true!
Not only are we not the center of the universe, but our sun isn’t the center – and even our galaxy isn’t. The universe is much larger than any of the writers of the Old Testament could even imagine in their time.
What they based their writings on was THEIR understanding of the universe:
This picture has been at the front of English bibles for many years. This was the people’s concept of the world at the time the Old Testament books were being written. The earth is a platform resting on pillars; the sky is an upside-down bowl. There are gates in the bowl to let in rain from the waters above the sky; the lakes and seas are areas where the waters below the earth reach up. God is above and outside of the created world; Sheol, buried deep in the earth, was the place where the dead go. Note: This was the same pre-scientific concept of the universe that was believed by the Hebrew’s pagan neighbors.
As you can see, the world of the ancient Jewish people was small, unchanging, with clearly defined boundaries. Remember, most people probably didn’t travel more than 10 or 20 miles outside their town for most of their lives. So they never saw things or people that were new or different.
Based on this image and their life experience, the world was static, unchanging, rhythmic, like the changing of the seasons that flowed year after year in the same pattern.
And so when we read – “In the beginning there was chaos – and the spirit breathed over the waters……”
The purpose of the creation story was to teach that people that God created everything; that God loved all He created (patriarchal culture), and that creation unfolded neatly; there was order; God ordered all things.
The world was brutal: animals killed; soldiers killed; fever killed; broken limbs crippled or killed… They needed to know that Someone loving was in control – that someone was God, the Creator.
So the Creation story was a metaphor, based on the Israelite understanding of the world/cosmos according to the scientific understand of their day, of their belief that God created all things; God saw that all was good; and that humans were made in the image and likeness of God (a powerful, prophetic statement for them -- and us!)
Scientists today (from as long ago as the early 1900’s) are giving us an entirely different story of creation: one of a universe that unfurls, that began with what they call a BIG BANG of energy and matter, energy and matter that is still expanding; and it is expanding not in a pre-existing container like the Israelite world, but rather it is
creating space as it expands. This is very important for us for several reasons:
If we believe in a stable, unchanging universe, we imitate the creative work of God by remaining unchanged; but if we believe in a universe that is constantly growing and changing; we realize for us also, it is more natural for us to grow and change than it is for us to stay the same. Remaining the same, not trying new things, not learning new skills, is unnatural, because it is not the way God works within creation – or within us.
On some level, we’ve already felt this. Our own experience shows that we are constantly learning new skills – community building skills, conflict resolution skills, computer skills, discussion skills, language skills – We have been growing and changing our entire lives.
Secondly, the “NEW” universe story is NOT new to us as Franciscan Sisters of the Poor. When we look at the results of our chapters for the last 2 decades, this is what we find:
• General Chapter of 1992 – Our Call was to focus on contemplation, multi-cultural internationality and membership development. In the challenge to develop a contemplative stance, we read… “this compels us to reach out to others, the world and all creation.”
• General Chapter of 1996 – Proclaiming the charism into the new millennium in harmony with all of creation – The fire of our charism of Blessed Frances impels us into the new millennium with a burning passion to give voice to the healing energy already sown in all of creation. Informed by the new cosmic understanding of interiority, differentiation and communion, we will integrate and develop more deeply the 1992 chapter challenges. These words(interiority, differentiation and communion) came from a presentation by Sr. Miriam Therese MacGillis, and at the time, they were very confusing, even though they simply mean we are all unique with an individual sacred center; we are all different; we are all connected.
We didn’t quite understand what we were saying, but we knew on some level that it was important and we wanted to hold on to it.
• General Chapter of 2000 – called us to Incarnate the healing charism through forgiveness and peace…..by promoting authentic relationships… and nurturing a global consciousness.
• General Chapter of 2004 – Italy, we were called to be prophetic witnesses of the Word, healing our wounded world.
- In addition to changing our governmental structure;
one of our Chapter calls was to: be a sister to all creation in accordance with our Trinitarian vision.
• Finally, our General Chapter of 2008 in Goiania, Brazil – Called us to Generate compassion and hope in the community of life.
• General chapter of 2013 – United States – As Apostles of the Resurrection, we will set free the healing energy of Christ in the community of life.
As we look at the development of our commitment to the whole of creation in the context of our General Chapters, we understand that this is not something new for us, but that we have been growing into these understandings of an expanded community of life for at least the past 24 years. Other recurring themes are around authentic community and the Incarnation. We will see these themes rise again later as we study the new cosmology further.
Our creation story begins with light, “And God said, let there be light and the light was made.”
You may remember the word, photosynthesis, from a high school science class: photosynthesis is the process by which the chlorophyll in green plants is able to take in light (energy) and change it into food (matter) and oxygen.
So how are these two connected – what does photosynthesis (which is science) have to do with God incarnate in Jesus (which is theology)?
Throughout her entire history, our planet was bathed in sunlight, but until life on earth evolved to develop the ability to convert light into food, the light was incapable of being the nourishing source that it is now. The relationship between the Sun and the Earth was restricted, not because the Sun couldn’t give, but because Earth could not receive.
Looking at the Incarnation through the dual lenses of evolution and the interaction of photosynthesis offers a new clarity about who Jesus is and his meaning for all creation.
Since time began, the Holy One (God) has been radiating light toward Earth in one continuous act of grace. Karl Rahner calls this grace God’s self-communication, an outpouring of the very being of God, which not only permeates but maintains our life. God’s self-communication began with the Big Bang 13.7 billion years ago. It was in and through God’s grace that the stars were born and galaxies were formed. God was not identical to these developments, but neither was God separate from them.
God’s grace continued to be active as Earth entered into orbit around the Sun and took shape. It was present, operating from within each creative advance, moment by moment, era by era.
For 13.7 billion years God’s self-communication had been radiating toward Earth, and eventually on Earth, as life evolved into greater and greater complexity, as our species became conscious, and we became aware that there was something bigger than ourselves, someone “Other” whose power could be witnessed in nature.
It was indeed a special moment when the human species became self-aware and received in a conscious way the radiant grace that had always been present.
Over and over, the Hebrew people struggled with who God was and how Divine Grace was to be lived out in a conscious way.
Just like sunlight, God’s grace has always been pulsing within and radiating towards Earth, ceaselessly self-communicating, ceaselessly pushing for life from within and without.
With Jesus comes the breakthrough moment. After thousands of years of preparation, a human person is finally able to receive grace in a more conscious way. Jesus is able to absorb the gracious radiance of God in a fashion that transforms those in his midst who are ready to receive the breakthrough event. Using our ability to communicate, Jesus began to express his knowledge and understanding of God in a radically amazing way. “In Jesus, God’s self-communication is both given irrevocably and accepted radically.”
The universe, developing in and through the love of the Creator in space and time over billions of years, has finally evolved to that place from which it can respond fully to the Creator in the person of Jesus. And what Jesus began to teach about our Creative God is that God loves all that God has created; God’s love includes everyone and everything; and that in God’s radiant Presence, God embraces all that is.
The connectedness of all life is not merely a physical phenomenon but an essential expression of the Divine Presence.
This revelation in and through Jesus was not intended to be an end in itself, but instead was meant to begin a new age of connectedness that Jesus called the “Kingdom of God”. This reign of God would unfold as human persons embraced a new way of living characterized by compassion and service, freedom and love. And from the actions of Jesus – healing the sick, eating with outcasts, forgiving sins and teaching about the depth of God’s love – we know that God’s reign was to be a lived experience in the here and now, not a future reality in another place. This is the vision Jesus lived and died for; the vision he passed on to us.
In Jesus, God’s life of grace broke open, spread out, and began to transform the world.
But the Light was not to be confined to Him alone. The tangible expression of the reign of God requires that those who believe in Jesus also believe in his statement that we too are the light of the world. We, too, are called to become light, accepting the Divine Nature and being transformed by It.
Jesus himself said: “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. No one, after lighting a lamp, puts it under the bushel basket, but on a lamp stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” Matt. 5:14-16
In Jesus, we too are capable of compassion. We, too, can accept the unacceptable and love the unlovable. We now know how to serve, how to forgive, how to be just and merciful. Yet even as we affirm that we have a share in Jesus’ Divine nature, the questions remain. How do we do this? How do we live in fidelity to God’s love for us? How do we find the strength and wisdom in these challenging times, not merely to carry on, but to carry out the challenge of transformation that is so critical now?
Once again, science and theology give us an answer.
– Remember the concept of the Communion of Saints – the fact that we (including those who have died and those who are living – the saints in heaven, the souls in purgatory – and we) are all connected and can help each other by prayer and intention?
There is a scientific theory that describes the existence of what Rupert Sheldrake calls a morphogenic or morphogenetic field (from the Greek “morphe”, form) – an unseen force that preserves the form of self-organizing systems from within.
These are not energy fields, but they help maintain the energy of a system by carrying the information that maintains its wholeness.
In the human species, morphogenic fields set up habits of thought, activity and speech. In one sense, they are like memory fields. Each member of a species draws on the collective memory of the group, and tunes in to the past members of the species and in turn, contributes to the further development of the species. Over time, these remembered habits become part of the internal code of the organism and help subsequent generations learn newly-emerging patterns.
Think of your own growth. How did you learn to speak, to feed yourself, to walk, to communicate in a way that others would understand you? We all learned by example, by observing others, by recognizing our desires and trying to express them.
We see this pattern again in the process of becoming a Franciscan Sister of the Poor. We study written rules and history; we observe the behaviors of others; we listen to their words and learn from their example. As we grow in experience, we develop common memories that energize us, memories of sisters whose stories we re-tell to excite us to action again and again!
One of the first movements toward claiming our light – our divine nature – is to examine our own morphogenic field of behavior and attitudes, asking ourselves how closely our values align with those that Jesus taught. When we maintain ourselves as a person committed to love, we create a morphogenic field of peace, one in which gentleness and patience flow out of a humble recognition of our connectedness to all.
Besides being rooted in scripture, the capacity to respond out of our lived experience of Jesus will keep his memory and mission alive, allowing his vision and values to become more deeply a part of our awareness. However, the keeping of the memory and mission of Jesus is not only about making HIM the object of our worship, but also about transforming OURSELVES into the locus of the reign God through the power of the Spirit. As we live the life to which we have been called, our habits alter our own field and we help create a hospitable environment that enables others to respond as well. In community – we maintain and creatively advance this particular kind of morphogenic field, and it becomes a formative power that contributes to the transformation of the universe.
How are you holding up? One last concept before questions…
St. Paul often reminds us that freedom is Christ’s aim for us; Christ’s call to us:
“For freedom Christ set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. For you were called to freedom…” Galatians 5: 1, 13
More and more, we are discovering that our concepts of this human capacity for freedom are narrow and confining. From the point of view of a universe that is growing and expanding, a superficial understanding of freedom is no longer sufficient.
The theory of holons allows us to talk about freedom in a way that allows us to go beyond the superficial. Although it encompasses the physical sciences, this theory comes from the work of philosopher Ken Wilber. According to the theory, all reality is composed of holons, or whole/parts; (picture) a holon in a whole that is part of other wholes.
For example, a whole letter is part of a whole word, which is part of a whole sentence, which is part of a whole paragraph, and so on. In our bodies, a molecule is part of a cell, which is part of an organ, which is part of our body.
Reality is composed of neither wholes nor parts, but of whole/parts, and this includes everything, whether we speak biologically, psychologically, or sociologically.
The same theory applies to the organization of systems as well. Individual human beings come together to form social groupings – families, communities, institutions, nations – and groups join together to form more complex organizations. Changing a single member alters the whole group or organization because it shifts the composition of the group. Each member brings a consciousness and presence that are essential components of the larger group.
Whether we are considering the physical level of being or consciousness itself, the theory of holons reveals how everything and everyone is connected to everything and everyone else on the most fundamental levels. Connectedness is a reality we cannot escape, and attention to the quality of our connections – the various wholes and parts of our lives – can radically alter our experience by altering the way we see.
Living in freedom means that we are sufficiently unfettered by fear to enter into the process of self-transcendence (moving beyond ourselves for the greater good), cooperating with the Creative Spirit Who asks us to become more than we ever dream or imagine we can be.
Living in the freedom for which Christ set us free means not judging ourselves and others – because everything is incomplete and everyone is trying their best to live in the tension between self-preservation and self-adaptation, love and fear.
By Sister Jo-Ann Jackowski, SFP
A review of articles by Judy Cannato, "Radical Amazement"
Published: March 15, 2017