Friday, July 18, 2014

From My Backyard: God, Evolution and Sacrifice

It's been awhile. Coursework and comprehensive prep for a DMin overwhelmed my writing time for a few months, but oh how good it is to be able to follow my heart in my writing again! Hope you enjoy this too.

Fifteen billion years after the original ‘Flaring Forth’, I sit in my backyard and read about the development of the universe while I breathe its oxygen, listen to its birds, absorb the energy of its sun, and turn the pages of a book made from the dead cells of trees whose origins are the same as mine.

I am reading The Universe Story: From the Primordial Flaring Forth to the Ecozoic Era, by Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry, and reflecting on the way in which all things are related. According to Swimme and Berry, as elements of the universe we are collectively going through a process of evolution that started from an initial event (the Flaring Forth). All things are connected through the web of relationships that spun out from it.

I do not often reflect on the story of the universe quite honestly. I just live in it. Yet the story matters. Stories bond us to each other and the world, while opening up space for creativity and movement within the embrace of truth.

In seeking out the Christian story, we have often limited ourselves to either the written text of scripture or the dogmatic history of the Church, and not looked far enough into the bigger, cosmic story. The universe story provides a forgotten yet all-encompassing backdrop to our thoughts, actions, prayers and relationships. This is deeply embedded within our scripture. God was there, in the beginning.

Some Christians struggle with the concept of evolution, worrying that somehow it dispenses with either God or evil. It does neither, instead demonstrating the larger, longer trajectory of existence spoken of so profoundly in the bible.

In a world threatened by climate change and the degradation of ocean, field and forest, the universe story deserves our attention more than ever. We have choices to make here. In this evolutionary journey, we travel with our whole planet, all of us together. Many things may damage our planet and the interconnected web of life, but only one creature may do so willfully. Only one creature may exercise evil. This is the human difference.

Fortunately, there is a flip side to human nature. Within humanity resides God’s gift of love, and the ability to embrace sacrifice for the greater good. Just as one system will sacrifice energy for another, our future can only materialize if we choose to sacrifice on a personal level for the good of our planet. One system feeds another. Oil is burned – sacrificed – to make a car run. Everything has its price. What will we pay for all life?

Christian theology offers ancient wisdom about the emptying of self for the world (Philippians 2). Acting for the sake of the other – whether human, animal, or vegetable – offers a way forward in the example of Christ. And in fact, acting for any of these is acting for all of these, including ourselves. By living more simply and containing our greed, we give ourselves a future. Standing up against the pollution wrought by tar sand oil excavation, or the clear-cutting of forests, or the greedy extraction of other natural resources translates into standing up for a future where water is drinkable, air is breathable, and life is sustainable. We live only in relationship to each other and to our planet.

According to Swimme and Berry, “the loss of relationship, with its consequent alienation, is a kind of supreme evil in the universe” (78). We must dare to choose the necessary sacrifices to maintain our relationship with the world and with God. If we do not, the story of the universe will continue, but the chapter on humanity will shortly come to an end.

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