In Between Stories
In Between Stories
A cosmology articulates a story of the universe that defines for a people what is real and worthwhile, what is to be avoided and what is to be pursued, it interprets our past and guides and inspires our shaping of the future.
Passionist priest Thomas Berry wrote “It’s all a question of story. We are in trouble just now because we are in between stories. The Old Story-the account of how the world came to be and how we fit into it-sustained us for a long time. It shaped our emotional attitudes, provided us with life purpose, and energized education…We awoke in the morning and knew where we were. We could answer the questions of our children. We could identify crime, punish transgressors. Everything was taken care of because the story was there…Today, however, our traditional story is no longer functioning properly, and we have not yet learned the New Story.”
The cosmology which sustained us for so long was a bible cosmology flowing from the seven days of creation. We learned that on the first day God created light; on the second a vault separating the waters from the sky; on the third dry land, seeds and vegetation; on the fourth the stars, sun and moon; on the fifth birds, fish and sea creatures; on the sixth animals, man and woman; and on the seventh day God rested – the end of creation. We know now from scientists and theologians, as well as our own experience of living in a dynamic universe, that creation is not over – that it is an ongoing event of which we are a part. In the words of Jesuit Pierre Teilhard de Chardin “We are collaborators in creation”.
The earlier story presents a static model of creation; there is no developmental dimension to this story – creation was a one-time event. There is no relatednesss between the elements; each creation is separate and distinct. Earth is seen as nothing more than a resource for humans. But learning that creation is an ongoing event, of which we are an integral part, changes everything. This new understanding does not negate the earlier story, but puts it in a time and place that no longer explains our understanding of an ever-evolving universe and a God who is continually creating. In the words of scientist Charles Einstein, “There is a vast territory between what we’re trying to leave behind and where we want to go-and we don’t have any maps for that territory.”
Today there is no shared understanding about how humans relate to the cosmos, and in particular to planet Earth, our home. The cosmic story arising from a literal understanding of the bible has ceased to make sense in the cultural milieu of the western world. Astrophysicist Joel Primack and cultural philosopher Nancy Abrams in their book, The View from the Center of the Universe, state that “Ours is probably the first major culture in human history with no shared picture of reality.”
The new story is still emerging. Scientists and theologians who stood on opposite sides of a great divide for many years are suddenly becoming aware of the need for the other. The following quotes from famous scientists illustrate this new awareness and desire for collaboration:
Carl Sagan, astronomer, cosmologist, astrophysicist and astrobiologist, stated that “Science is not only compatible with spirituality; it is a profound source of spirituality.”
Robert Jastrow, an astronomer and planetary physicist and former director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies and Professor of Geophysics at Columbia University, wrote, “For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.”
American Nobel Prize physicist and co-inventor of the laser, Arthur Schawlow, stated “It seems to me that when confronted with the marvels of life and the universe, one must ask why and not just how. The only possible answers are religious. . . . I find a need for God in the universe and in my own life.”
A new cosmology is also emerging. One that seeks to recognize the contributions scientists and theologians are making to this ever-evolving universe. Scientists are continually uncovering God’s creativity at work, things which they cannot explain, but which do in fact exist. Theologians are exploring the depths of this God who never ceases to create and who invites us to be part of all creation.
The challenge for us today is to recognize, as Pope Francis tells us multiple times in Laudato Si’, that everything is connected. Nothing in the universe is extraneous, nothing is inconsequential. It is all connected in a tapestry God has created and continually creates. We are part of this new story which calls us to let go of a dualistic world and embrace the Oneness God intends for all creation as we live into the new story.