Nodding to the Shadow

September 11th, 2019 by Dave No comments »

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

I want to emphasize that the shadow is not inherently evil or wrong; it varies from culture to culture. In the United States today, white dominant culture prizes competition, urgency, individualism, niceness (or avoidance of conflict), and logic. Other values and ways of being, such as cooperation, appropriate self-care, community, and vulnerability, are often seen as inferior. We cause so much harm and lose so much possibility by fearing our differences. By reclaiming our shadow we can tap into greater compassion and creativity. 

Jungian psychotherapist Robert Johnson continues explaining how the shadow functions and how we might work with it:

It is useful to think of the personality as a teeter-totter or see-saw. Our acculturation consists of sorting out our God-given characteristics and putting the acceptable ones on the right [visible] side of the seesaw and the ones that do not conform on the left [shadow side]. It’s an inexorable law that no characteristic can be discarded; it can only be moved to a different point on the seesaw. . . .

Johnson suggests that we should hide the culturally unacceptable parts from society, but not from ourselves. I agree that we must nod to our own shadow, name it for what it is, and give it the recognition it needs so that it won’t unconsciously control us. Likewise, it may not always serve us to keep parts of our shadow—whether seemingly “golden” (has a gift for you) or “dark”—hidden from the public. 

Johnson continues:

The fulcrum, or center point, is the whole (holy) place. . . .

This is one of Jung’s greatest insights: that the ego and the shadow come from the same source and exactly balance each other. To make light is to make shadow; one cannot exist without the other.

To own one’s own shadow is to reach a holy place—an inner center—not attainable in any other way. To fail this is to fail one’s own sainthood and to miss the purpose of life. . . .

To refuse the dark side of one’s nature is to store up or accumulate the darkness; this is later expressed as [depression], psychosomatic illness, or unconsciously inspired accidents. We are presently dealing with the accumulation of a whole society that has worshiped its light side and refused the dark, [1] and this residue appears as war, economic chaos, strikes, racial intolerance [more timely examples: gun violence, imprisoning refugees, and climate change]. . . . We must be whole whether we like it or not; the only choice is whether we will incorporate the shadow consciously and with some dignity or do it through some neurotic behavior. . . .

Any repair of our fractured world must start with individuals who have the insight and courage to own their own shadow. . . . The tendency to see one’s shadow “out there” in one’s neighbor or in another race or culture is the most dangerous aspect of the modern psyche. . . . We all decry war but collectively we move toward it. It is not the monsters of the world who make such chaos but the collective shadow to which every one of us has contributed. [Consider our complicity in centuries of colonialism, capitalism, and nationalism.] . . .

God grant that evolution may proceed quickly enough for each of us to pick up our own dark side, combine it with our hard-earned light, and make something better of it all than the opposition of the two. This would be true holiness. [And, I would add, it can only be done through contemplation.]

Making Holy

September 10th, 2019 by JDVaughn No comments »

Shadow Work

Making Holy
Tuesday, September 10, 2019

The shadow in and of itself is not the problem. The source of our disease and violence is separation from parts of ourselves, from each other, and from God. Mature religion is meant to re-ligio or re-ligament what our egos and survival instincts have put asunder, namely a fundamental wholeness at the heart of everything.

Robert A. Johnson (1921–2018) was an American Jungian analyst, author, and lecturer who studied at the C. G. Jung Institute. Many of Johnson’s insights have shaped my own work. In his book Owning Your Own Shadow, he explains how the shadow begins and how we grow:

We are all born whole and, let us hope, will die whole. But somewhere early on our way, we eat one of the wonderful fruits of the tree of knowledge, things separate into good and evil, and we begin the shadow-making process: we divide our lives. In the cultural process we sort out our God-given characteristics into those that are acceptable to society and those that have to be put away. This is wonderful and necessary, and there would be no civilized behavior without this sorting out of good and evil. But the refused and unacceptable characteristics do not go away; they only collect in the dark corners of our personality. When they have been hidden long enough, they take on a life of their own—the shadow life.

The shadow is that which has not entered adequately into consciousness. It is the despised quarter of our being. It often has an energy potential nearly as great as that of our ego. If it accumulates more energy than our ego, it erupts as an overpowering rage or some indiscretion or an accident that seems to have its own purpose. . . .

It is also astonishing to find that some very good characteristics turn up in the shadow. Generally, the ordinary, mundane characteristics are the norm. Anything less than this goes into the shadow. But anything better also goes into the shadow! Some of the pure gold of our personality is relegated to the shadow because it can find no place in that great leveling process that is culture.

Curiously, people resist the noble aspects of their shadow more strenuously. . . . The gold is related to our higher calling, and this can be hard to accept at certain stages of life. . . .

Wherever we start and whatever culture we spring from, [most of us] will arrive at adulthood with a clearly defined ego and shadow, a system of right and wrong, a teeter-totter with two sides. The religious process consists of restoring the wholeness of the personality. . . .

Generally, the first half of life is devoted to the cultural process—gaining one’s skills, raising a family, disciplining one’s self in a hundred different ways; the second half of life is devoted to restoring the wholeness (making holy) of life. One might complain that this is a senseless round trip except that the wholeness at the end is conscious while it was unconscious and childlike at the beginning.

Shadow Work

September 9th, 2019 by Dave No comments »

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Our shadow self is any part of ourselves or our institutions that we try to hide or deny because it seems socially unacceptable. The church and popular media primarily focus on sexuality and body issues as our “sinful” shadow, but that is far too narrow a definition. The larger and deeper shadow for Western individuals and culture is actually failure itself. Thus, the genius of the Gospel is that it incorporates failure into a new definition of spiritual success. This is why Jesus says that prostitutes and tax collectors are getting into the kingdom of God before the chief priests and religious elders (see Matthew 21:31).

Our success-driven culture scorns failure, powerlessness, and any form of poverty. Yet Jesus begins his Sermon on the Mount by praising “the poor in spirit” (Matthew 5:3)! Just that should tell us how thoroughly we have missed the point of the Gospel. Nonviolence, weakness, and simplicity are also part of the American shadow self. We avoid the very things that Jesus praises, and we try to project a strong, secure, successful image to ourselves and the world. We reject vulnerability and seek dominance instead, and we elect leaders who falsely promise us the same.

I can see why my spiritual father, St. Francis of Assisi (1181–1226), made a revolutionary and pre-emptive move into the shadow self from which everyone else ran. In effect, Francis said through his lifestyle, “I will delight in powerlessness, humility, poverty, simplicity, and failure.” He lived so close to the bottom of things that there was no place to fall. Even when insulted, he did not take offence. Now that is freedom, or what he called “perfect joy”! [1]

Our shadow is often subconscious, hidden even from our own awareness. It takes effort and life-long practice to look for, find, and embrace what we dismiss, deny, and disdain. After spending so much energy avoiding the very appearance of failure, it will take a major paradigm shift in consciousness to integrate our shadow in Western upwardly mobile cultures. Just know that it is the false self that is sad and humbled by shadow work, because its game is over. The True Self, “hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3), is incapable of being humiliated. It only grows from such supposedly humiliating insight.

One of the great surprises on the human journey is that we come to full consciousness precisely by shadowboxing, facing our own contradictions, and making friends with our own mistakes and failings. People who have had no inner struggles are invariably superficial and uninteresting. We tend to endure them more than appreciate them because they have little to communicate and show little curiosity. Shadow work is what I call “falling upward.” Lady Julian of Norwich (1342–1416) put it best of all: “First there is the fall, and then we recover from the fall. And both are the mercy of God!” [2] God hid holiness quite well: the proud will never recognize it, and the humble will fall into it every day—not even realizing it is holiness.

Becoming Who You Are
Monday, September 9, 2019

I have learned much from the Swiss psychotherapist Carl Gustav Jung (1875–1961). Jung brought together practical theology with good psychology. He surely was no enemy of religion; in fact, I would call him a mystic. Late in his life, when asked if he “believed” in God, Jung said, “I could not say I believe. I know! I have had the experience of being gripped by something that is stronger than myself, something that people call God.” [1]

However, Jung felt that Christianity contributed to a discontinuity—an unbridgeable gap—between God and the soul by over-emphasizing external rituals and intellectual belief instead of inner experience and inner transformation. He recognized that Christianity had some helpful theology (for Jung, Jesus Christ served as the central archetype revealing “the hidden, unconscious ground-life of every individual,” . . . and representing “the typical dying and self-transforming God” [2]), but it often had poor psychology and anthropology. Jung was disillusioned by his own father and six uncles, all Swiss Reformed pastors, whom he saw as unhappy and unintegrated. Jung basically said of Christianity: “It’s not working in real life!” [3]

Jung wouldn’t have fit the bill for the classic definition of a saint. He had a number of affairs and for a little while flirted with Nazism. He had a mixed past—don’t we all?—yet his very mistakes usually led him to recognize and heal the shadow self that lurks in our personal unconscious and is then projected outward onto others.

The face we turn toward our own unconscious is the face we turn toward the world. Read that twice! As Jesus said, “The lamp of the body is the eye” (Matthew 6:22). People who accept themselves accept others. People who hate themselves hate others. Only Divine Light gives us permission, freedom, and courage to go all the way down into our depths and meet our shadow.

For Jung, the God archetype is the whole-making function of the soul. It’s that part of you that always wants more, but not in a greedy sense. God is the inner energy within the soul of all things, saying, “Become who you are. Become all that you are. There is still more of you—more to be discovered, forgiven, and loved.” Jungian analytical psychology calls such growth and becoming “individuation,” which I like to think of as moving toward the life wish instead of the death wish. The life wish teaches us not to fragment, splinter, or split, but to integrate and learn from everything; whereas the ego moves toward constriction and separation or “sin.” The God archetype is quite simply love at work calling us toward ever deeper union with our own True Self, with others, and with God.

In the journey toward psychic wholeness, Jung stressed the necessary role of religion or the God archetype in integrating opposites, [4] including the conscious and the unconscious, the One and the many, good (by embracing it) and evil (by forgiving it), masculine and feminine, the small self and the Big Self. By “Self” with a capital “S,” Jung meant the deepest center of the psyche/soul that is in union with the Divine. And, if I understand him, it is shared! It is one and we are all participants, just as many mystics have asserted. I would call it the True Self, the Christ Self, or if you prefer, the Buddha Self, which has learned to consciously abide in union with the Presence within us (John 14:17).

Summary: Week Thirty-six

Cosmology: Part Two

September 1 – September 6, 2019

Evolution brings with it the rise of consciousness, and as consciousness rises, so too does awareness of God. —Ilia Delio (Sunday)

To see evolution as revelatory of the divine Word means that we come to see the various forms and rhythms of nature as reflective of divine qualities. —Ilia Delio (Monday)

For what we know and what we see are only shadows that cannot reflect the fullness of the cosmos or our place in it. —Barbara Holmes (Tuesday)

The universe forms one natural whole, which finally can subsist only by dependence from [Christ]. —Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (Wednesday)

Christ is at the heart of all that moves us. —Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (Thursday)

The human vocation is to be true co-workers with God and stewards of creation. —Denis Edwards (Friday)

Practice: Contemplating the Cosmos

The universe is not a tragic expression of meaningless chaos, but a marvelous display of an orderly cosmos. —Martin Luther King, Jr. [1]

Dr. Barbara Holmes suggests that the emerging story of the universe might have the power to actually heal:

From the intersection of theology, cosmology, physics, and culture emerges a view of human life that is not divided neatly along categories of race, ethnicity, class, and sexual orientation. Instead, human life on quantum and cosmic levels evinces a oneness that is not dependent on religious hope or social plan. It is an intrinsic element of a universe that is both staggering and healing in its human/divine scope. [2]

Neil deGrasse Tyson, an astrophysicist and director of the Hayden Planetarium, says, “Our molecules are traceable to stars that exploded and spread these elements across the galaxy.” He explains:

[If you] see the universe as something you participate in—as this great unfolding of a cosmic story—that, I think should make you feel large, not small. . . . You will never find people who truly grasp the cosmic perspective . . . leading nations into battle. . . . When you have a cosmic perspective there’s this little speck called Earth and you say, “You’re going to what? You’re on this side of a line in the sand and you want to kill people for what? Oh, to pull oil out of the ground, what? WHAT?” . . . Not enough people in this world, I think, carry a cosmic perspective with them. It could be life-changing. [3]

Science reveals that everything is both matter and energy or spirit, co-inhering as one. This is a Christocentric universe. That realization changes everything. Matter is holy; the material world is our temple where we can worship God simply by loving and respecting matter. The Christ is God’s active power inside the physical world. [4]

How might we begin to experience this cosmic or universal perspective? We might begin by looking to the sky. Here are a few ways to practice growing this cosmic consciousness.

Find a place where you can sit or lie down with a view of a clear night sky. Just look up and let your eyes open to the vastness before you. Notice the light you can see and travel in your imagination to the source of that light and even further. Lose yourself completely in the deep, mysterious, and unimaginably vast universe. [5]

Contemplate the size of the universe:

  • There are at least 200 billion galaxies in our universe.
  • There are at least 100-200 billion planets in our galaxy alone, the Milky Way.
  • That means there are at least 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 (one septillion) planets in the universe.
  • And you are a part of it. . . .

Reflect on your life as a whole and consider Barbara Holmes’ words from earlier this week:

Solutions [in our desire for justice] may always be out of reach, but our chances of success are better when our efforts are invested with the humility that comes only with an inward and upward glance, for we are carrying our possibilities within the resonance of starborn and interconnected selves. [6]


September 6th, 2019 by JDVaughn No comments »

Cosmology: Part Two

Friday, September 6, 2019

I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. —Revelation 21:1

John doesn’t say the old earth is destroyed; it’s made new. Not only humans, but the whole of creation is moving toward a full maturation of the God-seed planted within. This makes Christians on some level evolutionists. History, like the universe, is unfolding. For me, this is the meaning of the second coming of Christ. The unfolding mystery of the Body of Christ is the second coming, and it’s ongoing. [1] Read more of theologian Denis Edwards’ insights on this theme:

Jesus Christ is God’s irrevocable promise of salvation within the evolving cosmos. In the light of Jesus, and God’s promise given in him, Christian theology knows that final catastrophe, and a total halt to progress, are not the future of the unfolding universe. The final goal of evolutionary history for free bodily human beings is intimacy with God, a future shared in some way by the whole created cosmos.

What relationship is there between the world which we help to build by our participation and the new Earth? How is the new Earth related to our work, to culture and to science? How is it related to our efforts to create a just and peaceful world? Is all of this simply the place where we prove ourselves? Or is the new Earth directly related to what we are constructing here and now?

[Karl] Rahner [1904–1984] answers that the coming kingdom of God will be the deed of God. This is the standard Christian tradition concerning the end time. The final consummation will not be simply an outcome of what has been planned and worked at by [humans]. We face a future which is radically mysterious and uncontrollable, because it is of God.

But Rahner claims this deed of God can be thought of as the self-transcendence of our own history. [2] Human history, like the history of nature, is to be transformed from within by the power of God. Human history is destined to endure, but it will endure in a radically transfigured form. God’s action is free and beyond our calculations or control, but it comes from within.

History itself passes into definitive consummation in God. . . . It is not just human beings who endure into eternity, nor is it simply some moral distillation of what they achieve. Rather “that which endures is the work of love as expressed in the concrete in human history.” [3] Human work and human love have eternal significance. . . .

The human vocation, then, is to be true co-workers with God and stewards of creation. The human task of completing creation derives its meaning from the redemptive and divinizing will of God. This applies even to those who do not know the significance of their contributions. Those whose actions are directed toward the good of the cosmos, believers and unbelievers alike, fall under the impulse of grace.

At the Heart

September 5th, 2019 by JDVaughn No comments »

Cosmology: Part Two
At the Heart
Thursday, September 5, 2019

In a recent episode of our podcast Another Name for Every Thing, Brie Stoner, Paul Swanson, and I reflected on why people are so uncomfortable when we say things like “Christ is in all things.” I’ve been accused of being a pantheist, but that’s lazy thinking, a cheap shot. I’m a panentheist. The Christian word for that is incarnationalism, the manifestation of the divine through the natural, physical, and human world. It’s a Christ-soaked world. Jesus—the Word made flesh—comes out of the world rather than into the world. Christ was here all the time. In Christ all of history and all of us are held together. And you do not have to use the word Christ to experience this radical unity! [1]

Read more from Beatrice Bruteau on Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s view of the cosmic, universal Christ:
“There exists in all beings,” says Teilhard, “a common centre” through which “they meet together at a deeper level . . . and we may call this Centre equally well the point upon which they converge, or the ambience in which they float. . . .” This bond of unity constitutes the “axis of all individual and collective life. It is in virtue of that axis that we see that Christ has not only a mystical, but a cosmic body. . . . And this Cosmic Body, to be found in all things . . . is eminently the mystical Milieu; whoever can enter into that milieu is conscious of having made [their] way to the very heart of everything, of having found what is most enduring in it.” [2]

This is, in Teilhard’s view, the cosmic meaning of the divine incarnation. “The totality of all perfections, even natural perfections, is the necessary basis for that mystical and ultimate organism . . . the plenitude of the incarnate Word. . . . The whole world is concentrated and uplifted in expectancy of union with the divine”. . . . [3]

How can Christ be so universal? “Simply as a magnification, a transformation, realized in the humanity of [Jesus], of the aura that surrounds every human monad.” [4] “The universe takes on the lineaments of Jesus;” [5] . . . It is through Christ that God “animates the whole complex of exterior events and interior experiences. . . . [Christ] is at the heart of all that moves us.” [6] “Christ is . . . the Shepherd (the Animator) of the Universe.” As “from the depths of Matter to the highest peak of the Spirit there is only one evolution.”

So all beings and all works serve “physically to complete the Body of Christ, whose charity animates and recreates all things.” [7] Teilhard is referring here, no doubt, to the scripture, which, likening Jesus to the Good Shepherd, affirms that there is only “one fold and one shepherd” [John 10:16]. . . . Teilhard summarizes his position and his faith this way:
I believe that the universe is an evolution.
I believe that evolution proceeds towards spirit.
I believe that in [humanity] spirit is fully realized in person.
I believe that the supremely personal is [also] the Universal Christ. [8]


September 4th, 2019 by Dave No comments »

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881–1955) was a Jesuit paleontologist and mystic whose writings were suppressed by Catholic authorities during his lifetime. Today there’s a growing appreciation for his work which brings science and religion together and mobilizes Christians to participate with God in the process of bringing the universe to its fulfillment in Christ. In particular, we Franciscans resonate with Teilhard. I first discovered him in college in the early 1960s, during the heady years of the Second Vatican Council, and he filled me with a cosmic, earthy vision for my life. 

What did Teilhard mean by “the cosmic Christ”? Dr. Beatrice Bruteau (1930–2014) explained:

Teilhard did not really mean that Christ had a “third nature,” a cosmic one, in addition to his divine and human natures. . . . Teilhard teaches only a cosmic function, significance or presence of Christ, not a cosmic nature. . . .

Nevertheless, it seems clear that Teilhard saw and felt something—and that strongly—for which his traditional language could not offer him any adequate image. He drew heavily from the words of St. Paul when he spoke of “the Body of Christ” or of Christ’s role with respect to the whole of creation or of his “energy” which still presses the world-process forward toward its goal:

[Christ] is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation; for in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible . . .  all things were created through him and for him [Colossians 1:15]. . . .

But Teilhard felt that the full cosmic significance of this vision and its physical reality had been overlooked among his coreligionists. . . .

When Teilhard tried to stress the cosmic aspect and bring it forward as a central motif in the Christian view of reality, his friends were embarrassed. . . . Teilhard apparently had an instinctive grasp of something which he was not free to express under the terms of his tradition. Yet it was a vital feature of his own system, in fact, it was the bond which he so desperately sought between his God in heaven, taught by his religion, and his God in the earth, taught by science and experience in life. The story of his life is the story of his struggle to bring this darkly sensed Mediator into such a form that both sides of him could live with it. It was a terrible conflict, but it produced a great many beautiful fruits both in his writings and in his own character. . . .

The central conception in Teilhard’s notion of the cosmic Christ is that “the universe forms one natural whole, which finally can subsist only by dependence from [Christ]. That’s the main thing.” [1] Teilhard sees himself as “the evangelist” of “Christ in the universe,” one who preaches Christ as containing “all the unyielding immensity and grandeur of the world.” [2] His “fundamental vision” [3] as expressed in The Divine Milieu is of Christ as All-in-everything, in its reality and in its future.

September 2nd, 2019 by Dave No comments »

Cosmology: Part Two

Participating in God
Sunday, September 1, 2019

From the beginning until now, the entire creation as we know it has been groaning in one great act of giving birth. —Romans 8:22

Just this one line from Paul should be enough to justify evolution. God creates things that create themselves! Wouldn’t this be the greatest way that God could create—to give autonomy, freedom, and grace to keep self-creating even further? Healthy parents love their children so much that they want them to keep growing to their highest potential, even surpassing their parents. As Jesus said to his disciples, “Don’t get too excited about the things that I did. You’re going to do even greater things!” (John 14:12).

For a long time, many people were satisfied with a very static universe. But now we clearly see the universe is unfolding and expanding. It’s moving until, as Augustine (354–430) put it, “In the end there will only be Christ loving himself,” [1] or as Paul wrote, “There is only Christ, he is everything and he is in everything” (Colossians 3:11). Paul saw history as an ongoing process of ever greater inclusion of every lesser force until in the end, “God will be all in all” (1 Corinthians 15:28). Christ is the Christian word for the One reality that includes everything and excludes nothing.

Franciscan scientist Sr. Ilia Delio writes about this cosmology as participatory movement:

Evolution impels us to think of God as drawing the world from up ahead, attracting it into a new future. Process theology maintains that God is neither simply an impersonal order nor simply the individual person who creates the universe. Rather, God and world are in process together; the world continually participates in God and God in the world. God, who is the primordial ground of order, embodies within Godself the order of possibilities, the potential forms of relationship that are not chaotic but orderly even before they are actualized. Nothing less than a transcendent force, radically distinct from matter but also incarnate in it, could ultimately explain evolution. . . . God is distinct from the world yet essential to it, just as the world is essential to God. Apart from God there would be nothing new in the world and no order in the world. God influences the world without determining it. This influence is the lure of ideals to be actualized, the persuasive vision of the good; it contributes to the self creation of each entity. . . .

Evolution brings with it the rise of consciousness, and as consciousness rises, so too does awareness of God. The human person is created to see God in every aspect of life, charged with divine energy, and to love what he or she sees. In this respect scripture is written daily in the supermarkets, nursing homes, playgrounds, post offices, cafes, bars, and in the scripts of home and community life. God is not hovering over us; God is the amazing depth, breadth, imagination, and creativity in culture, art, music, poetry, science, literature, film, gyms, and parks—all in some way speak the word of God. Every place is the place to find God, and God is in everything. [2]

A New Consciousness
Monday, September 2, 2019

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. We have seen his glory, full of grace and truth. . . . From his fullness, we have all received, grace upon grace. —John 1:1-3, 14, 16

God’s plan and presence—the Christ—has been with us since the beginning of the universe. In Jesus, the blueprint materialized and became visible, showing us the way toward wholeness. The Greek word John uses for “fullness” is pleroma. Paul uses the very same word in several places and clearly teaches that “You have a share in this fullness” (Colossians 2:9) and even “You are filled with the utter fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:19). Talk about inherent dignity and empowerment! 

Ilia Delio continues reflecting on what this means for us and maturing Christianity:

Evolution invites us to expand our consciousness of the divine mystery beyond the realm of human history and to see humankind [and all of creation] within the process of an evolving cosmic history. We come from the whole and belong to the whole. As church, as theologians, as citizens of the universe, therefore, we need an “option for whole,” and by this I mean we need a new consciousness that includes our Big Bang expanding universe and biological evolution as part of our intellectual search for truth. Theology must begin with evolution if it is to talk of a living God, and hence it must include physical, spiritual, and psychological change as fundamental to reality. Einstein’s discovery of relativity means that space-time is a dimension of the unfinished, expanding universe; thus, whatever we say about God is bound up with the universe. By extending the knowing process into the furthest realms of cosmic relatedness, being acquires new depth. Knowledge cannot be satisfied with human history alone; it must reach into cosmic history, if it is in search of truth. To see evolution as revelatory of the divine Word means that we come to see the various forms and rhythms of nature as reflective of divine qualities. This means moving beyond the static images of God that are so familiar to us and that remain irretrievably tied to an archaic understanding of the cosmos. We are invited, through modern science, to widen our theological vision, to awaken to a dynamic cosmos in which we are deeply related, and to seek the divine Word expressing itself in the rich fecundity of cosmic life.

Summary: Week Thirty-fiveAugust 25 – August 30, 2019

Summary: Week Thirty-five

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 lawns 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]

Quantum Entanglement

August 30th, 2019 by Dave No comments »

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]

Holistic Knowing

August 28th, 2019 by Dave No comments »

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.”

Holistic Knowing

August 27th, 2019 by JDVaughn No comments »

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.