Cosmos

© Rev Rex A E Hunt, MSc(Hons)
Creation4C/Pent18C, 2010


COMING HOME TO THE COSMOS…

“Everything in the universe is related.
Can you feel that umbilical cord to the Cosmos?
Can you feel the strands of connectedness – the interpendent web – of all existence,
even
with all human beings?”
(DeWolf 2008).

Bruce Sanguin, the Canadian author and (former) progressive minister in Vancouver,
has written and important book called
Darwin, Divinity, and the Dance of the Cosmos.
          It is from this book I have borrowed the title for this sermon.

Today we celebrate the fourth Sunday in the new
Lectionary season called Season of Creation.
          And the theme for this day is Cosmos Sunday, hence the sermon title.

In the first chapter of his book, Sanguin tells of a time,
while still a theological student, he was in a café
          eating an egg salad sandwich and reading a poem.

The poem so affected him he said it felt as if
“someone had peeled back a layer of reality to reveal the invisible radiance of what lay behind and within all creation.”  (Sanguin 2007:20)

Listen as I share that poem:
This sunset…
This smile…
This word you are writing…
This pain you are feeling…
The question you are asking…
This omelette you are cooking…

The meaning of life
is the tear of joy
shed at the
sight of
the
well-cooked omelette.  
(JPramuk)

Reflecting on his poem experience, Sanguin says:
“If the poem I read expressed any truth at all, it was this: if we could truly see what is before our eyes, day in and day out, the sacred radiance of creation would drop us to our knees and render us speechless.  We would know ourselves to be in as much divine presence as we can handle in this earthly realm.”  (Sanguin 2007:21-22)

Today, Cosmos Sunday, is an invitation to once again feel
deeply and organically connected with planet Earth.

Today, Cosmos Sunday, is also an invitation for the Church to
‘get with’ a 21st century cosmological program…
“There is a new story of creation, which needs to inform our biblical stories of creation…  [And this new evolutionary cosmological story] simply cannot be contained by old models and images of God, and outmoded ways of being the church.” (Sanguin 2007:27-28)

oo0oo

In every age the worlds of theology and religion interact with
the cultural and scientific worldviews of that day.

Such interaction between the two is essential
“to make religious faith both credible and relevant within a particular generation’s view of the world and how it works.”  (Johnson 2007:286)

Sharing Sanguin’s concern, feminist Catholic theologian Elizabeth Johnson says:
“In sum, theological reflection today should endeavor to speak about God’s relation not to an ancient nor medieval nor Newtonian world, but to the dynamic, emergent, self-organizing universe that contemporary natural and biological sciences describe.”  (Johnson 2007:287)

Scientists tell us the ‘Great Story’ as we understand it today, begins with
the ultimate mystery of the Big Bang, some 13 – 15 billion years ago.
          Life on Earth originated some four billion years ago.
          Homo habilis (our ancestors) begin using tools 2.5 million years ago.
          Symbolic language emerges between 50,000 and 500,000 years ago.
          Classical religions emerge around 3,000-4,000 years ago.
          I emerged just over 66 years ago.

Billions of years of cosmic evolution have produced us.
The ancestral stars are a part of our genealogy.
          “Out of the stars in their flight,
          out of the dust of eternity, here have we come,
          Stardust and sunlight, mingling
          through time and through space…”  (Weston 1993)

If we put our 13-15 billion year universe on a clock of one hour,
“humanity appears in only the last few seconds.”  (Peters 2002:127)

The sheer immensity of the cosmos/universe/planet
is very hard to get one’s head around.

The fragments of knowledge we do have, suggest:
• one million bodies the size of Earth can fit in the volume of the Sun;
• each star has a sun;
• there are 100,000 million stars in the Milky Way galaxy;
• there are approx. 100,000 million galaxies;
• it has taken light 12,000 million years to reach us from the farthest reaches of space;
• the current diameter of the observable cosmos/universe is thought to be about 93 billion light years.

It is absolutely essential to make religious faith both credible and relevant
within a particular generation’s view of the world and how it works!

oo0oo

In light of all this let me offer a couple of additional comments…
I invite you to ponder them sometime.

(i) Roger Gillette, a retired physicist and systems development engineer,
suggests our oft-used general term ‘nature’, should now cover:
“the whole complex, interrelated and interacting unitary universe of matter-energy in space-time, a universe of which humans are an integral part...” (Gillette 2006:1).

That is, the universe as a whole, is and must be, of intrinsic value,
          and each part: galaxy, organism, individual atom,
          participates in that intrinsic value as it participates in the universe.

While (ii) Karl Peters suggests that nature is in us as much as we are in nature.
“We are webs of reality, woven out of the threads of culture, biology, and the cosmos according to recipes (structures of language and values, DNA codes, and laws of nature) in each.  As webs of reality each of us is a manifestation of a large part of the universe as a whole.”  (Peters 1992:412)

Both these comments plus many others, go to the core of our beliefs:
How can we now describe the experience we call G-o-d?

Traditionally it seems, most Christians have imagined God
as The Creator, a kind of person-like reality
who has brought everything into being.

However all that is now changing.
New religious stories are being shaped.
          Stories which understand the presence of God that is compatible
          with the ideas of modern science.

And the new story which I find personally compelling is
experiencing and understanding God
“as simply the creativity that has brought forth the world and all its contents, from the Big Bang all the way down to the present.”  (Kaufman 2006:xi)


Much of this thinking is being led by the former - now late - Harvard theologian,
Gordon Kaufman.  In his last published book he stated:
“Imagining God as creativity enables Christian thinkers to be much more attuned to what the modern sciences have been teaching us about our lives and the world in which we live.  It makes it possible to bridge the divide often felt between religious faith and our scientific knowledge”.  (Kaufman 2006:xi)

So what does it mean to be progressively religious in the 21st century…
Some of my responses include:
• To be progressively religious in the 21st century is to see ourselves “as webs of cosmos, life, and culture, so that we and the rest of our planet can continue and flourish”  (Peters 2002:136)

• To be progressively religious in the 21st century is to be devoted to maximising the future of the earth and all living creatures whose destiny is increasingly in our hands…

• To be progressively religious in the 21st century is to value the importance of the human relationships which bind us together into social groups…

• To be progressively religious in the 21st century is to place the needs of the global society before those of our own immediate family, tribe or nation.  (Geering 1998:46)

• To be progressively religious in the 21st century is to celebrate life.

Such a 21st century progressive religion is also, I want to suggest,
a response to the vision and efforts and the life of
the Galilean sage we call Jesus, without the baggage of Christological beliefs
unnecessarily added by the church.  (Wink 2000:177)

So where are we…
(i) If we put all this together the new Great Story suggests
          the whole universe is alive and changing, continually
          co-creating new possibilities of life.

Change is!  Or remembering the ground-breaking work of Charles Darwin
published 150 years ago, change is the core of
          cosmic evolution,
          biological evolution,
          cultural/symbolic evolution.  (Peters 2002, Kaufman 2004)

(ii) The word 'environment' literally means "that which surround us".

If we were actually to notice that which surround us, then
following the comments of ethicist, Jack Hill,
"At the very least, we would notice changes in the seasonal flights of birds.  We would notice if the mosquito population doubled or tripled.  We would notice if more and more trees had dead limbs.  Instead of reading about the effects of global warming, we would notice them in our daily experience!”  (Hill 2008: 68).

As contemporary progressive theology reminds us time and time again,
God or the Sacred or Creativity does not reside in some other place called ‘heaven’.
          Nor is heaven our goal.

The world is our true home.  Indeed, our only home.
“This life is meant to be enjoyed.  To enjoy life is to cherish the beauty of each living thing, to be interested in diversity and difference in the web of
life…”  (Christ 2003:116)

May the story of the ones who discovered the whole cosmos/universe/planet
is alive and changing, continually, and
          that novelty and surprise makes life interesting… (Christ 2003:171).

Always awaken within us new possibilities for the now.


Bibliography:
Ayala, F. J. “The Evolution of Life: An Overview” in M. K. Cunningham (ed) God and Evolution. A Reader. Oxon. Routledge, 2007.
Birch, L. C.
Nature and God. London. SCM Press, 1965.
Christ, C. P.
She Who Changes. Re-imagining the Divine in the World. New York. PalgraveMacmillan, 2003.
DeWolf, M. L. “
What do we Mean – ‘Thank God for Evolution’?” Nature Coast Unitarian Universalists Church. The ClergyLetter Project web site., 2008
Geering, L.
Does Society Need Religion? Wellington. St Andrew’s Trust for the Study of Religion and Society, 1998.
Gillett, P. R.
“Theology of, by, and for Religious Naturalism” in Journal of Liberal Religion 6, 1, 1-6. (An online journal), 2006.
Hill, J. A.
Ethics in the Global Village. Moral Insights for the Post 9-11 USA. Santa Rosa. Polebridge Press, 2008.
Johnson, E. A.
“Does God Play Dice? Divine Providence and Chance” in M. K. Cunningham (ed) God and Evolution. A Reader. Oxon. Routledge, 2007.
Kaufman, G. D.
Jesus and Creativity. Minneapolis. Augsburg Fortress, 2006.
Kaufman, G. D.
In the Beginning… Creativity. Minneapolis. Fortress Press, 2004.
Peters, K. E.
Dancing with the Sacred. Evolution, Ecology, and God. Harrisburg. Trinity International, 2002.
Peters, K. E.
“Interrelating Nature, Humanity, and the Work of God: Some Issues for Future Reflection” in Zygon: Journal of Religion & Science 27, 4, 403-419, 1992.
Sanguin, B.
Darwin, Divinity, and the Dance of the Cosmos. An Ecological Christianity. Kelowna. CopperHouse/Wood Lake Publishing, 2007.
Weston, R. T.
“Out of the Stars” in Singing the Living Tradition. Boston. Beacon Press/UUA, 1993.
Wink, W.
“The Son of Man the Stone that Builders Rejected" in Jesus Seminar. The Once and Future Jesus. Santa Rosa. Polebridge Press, 2000.

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