Matthew Fox’s Creation Spirituality has provided a pathway beyond the constrictive confines of Christian doctrine into the Wisdom tradition of the Mystics. Here he plays with the “ah” sounds of the various names for the divine. The exercise which he demonstrates is a wonderful way to open or awaken one’s self to the playfulness of the Spirit.
In his newly published bestseller “Evolutionaries” Carter Phipps defines evolution as an idea that transcends biology. Evolution says Phipps, “is better thought as a broad set of principles and patterns that generate novelty, change, and development over time.” He defines “Evolutionaries” as generalists willing to engage in cross-disciplinary thinking who have or are developing the ability to contemplate the vast timescales of our evolutionary history as they embody a new spirit of optimism.
Phipps cautions against leaning into Neo-Darwinism with its focus upon competition and the principle of the survival of the fittest as the driving forces behind evolution. Instead, Phipps points to current biologists whose theories of symbiogenesis have shifted the scientific and cultural conversations about evolution from a focus on competition to a new appreciation of cooperation. “The spoils of evolution go not to the fastest or the smartest but to those who can find the best relationship between creative individuality and cooperative sociality.”
For those of us whose understanding of evolution is limited to our hastily studied and quickly forgotten high school biology classes, the word co-operation may not spring to mind when we think of evolution. Indeed, when thinking about our cultural evolution we all too often look to our violent past and point to the survival of the fittest to determine the ways and means by which humanity has evolved over time. But if as biologists insist, co-operation and the ability to form relationships are determinative factors in the evolution of species, we would do well not only to re-examine our history but also look toward the future with an eye toward improving our abilities to co-operate and form relationships, so as to help determine what we might become.
Phipps explains that, “Evolution happens at the edges. Evolution happens on the borders, the boundaries, the in-between zones. This is true whether we are talking about nature or culture. It as the case in ancient glucose gradients that helped spur the creation of eukaryotic cells, as well as in the primordial mud between land and sea where scientists suggest that life first emerged.”
Inspired by Matthew Fox’s “Creation Spirituality” I have come to believe that religious institutions must work to enable their adherents to take seriously our call to be co-creators in the ongoing process of creation. Evolutionary thinkers like Phipps encourage me to wonder what role the church may or may not play in humanity’s need to foster co-operation and the ability to form relationships so that we might evolve into all that we are created to be???
Below is an interview that sheds more light on Carter Phipps’ evolutionary thinking. Enjoy!
Evolutionary is a term given to thinkers who see evolution as much more than simply a theory that pertains to the biological development of life on this planet. Evolutionaries are generalists who are willing to piece together information from all disciplines in order to explain the cosmos. So, says Carter Phipps in his new bestseller, “Evolutionaries: Unlocking the Spiritual and Cultural Potential of Science’s Greatest Idea”. In which he defines evolutionaries as: “deep time explorers of a universe of infinite becoming.” In a world where scientists, philosophers, and theologians are borrowing from one another’s insights in order to explore the secrets of existence, evolutionary theory is being applied to more than just biology.
Inspired by Matthew Fox’s “Original Blessing”, I have long since given up on the medieval doctrine of original sin and moved beyond the atonement theologies that rely on our need to be saved by a “Father God”. Like many progressive Christians, rather than describing the human condition as sinful or broken, I understand humanity to be incomplete and still evolving. We did not fall from grace in some mythical garden. Humanity, like all of the cosmos continues to evolve. The idea of evolution has all sorts of implications not only for how we see ourselves as human beings, here and know. As we continue to evolve, the determination of who or what humanity becomes requires that we take seriously our role as co-creators not with some grand-puppetier-god-in-the-sky. But as co-creators with a God who is in all and through all.
The emerging conversation between scientists, theologians, and philosophers makes the question “Do you believe in the bible or do you believe in evolution?” obsolete. The conversations between disciplines are giving birth to a new spirituality. Evolutionary Christianity is emerging. Evolutionary thinkers are developing new theologies that take seriously God’s presence in all things through Christ.
After having spent a week, exploring the work of Teilhard de Chardin; an evolutionary thinker who was decades ahead of his time, I am eagerly devouring my copy of Phipps new book (just released June 12 and it has already it has reached #14 on Amazon). I will say more in future posts. In the meantime, for an overview of what it means to be an evolutionary, take a look at the video below which features Carter Phipps speaking at MIT this past May.
Today, I began to study the work of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. I have been longing to do this ever since I was first introduced to this 20th century Christian mystic some 25 years ago, when Matthew Fox’s “Original Blessing” helped me to look to the Christian mystics, both ancient and modern, to find new ways of connecting to the cosmos. After many brief encounters with Teilhard’s work in books and articles by some of my favorite theologians, I have longed to spend some time exploring Teilhard’s purported brilliance. I have begun by reading “The Human Phenomenon” (often mistranslated from the French as “The Phenomenon of Man”). I’ve submerged myself in the delights and challenges of this enthralling work until my mind is about to explode (usually just a chapter or two at a sitting) and then I take a break by reading Ersula King’s riveting biography: “Spirit of Fire: The Life and Vision of Teilhard de Chardin”. It has been a mind blowing day!
So many connections are emerging and I shall endeavor to post them as they escape from the quagmire of ideas that are swirling around in my brain. But as the Sabbath approaches I leave you with this playful tune from Peter Mayer which celebrates this blessed Ordinary Day in a way that complements this mystic moment!
Tomorrow, I will get into my car to begin the nearly three-and-a-half-thousand kilometre journey to Vancouver. When people ask me why I’m driving so far instead of flying, I tell them it is because my sabbatical affords me the luxury of taking my time. But I suspect the real reason has something to do my love of this immense land in which I have the pleasure of living. From behind the wheel, I will have the freedom to explore just a small part of Canada and I can hardly wait to get beyond the familiar routes of my day-to-day life and out on to the open road, knowing all the while that in the far off distance, beyond the rocks and trees of Ontario, the open expanse of the prairies lie the mountains. I will linger in the mountains before making my way to the Vancouver School of Theology, on the grounds of my alma mater the University of British Columbia, where I will spend six glorious weeks reading and reflecting upon the many emerging connections that are happening in progressive christian theology. So, filled as I am, with anticipation of all that tomorrow promises, I am also filled with memories of other trips into the splendour of creation.
When I was a student in the Religious Studies department at the University of British Columbia, I decided that if I was ever going to be able to understand religious practices that I would need to do more than simply study them from an academic perspective. Longing to understand more about Buddhism I decided to learn how to meditate. I went to a Buddhist retreat centre to try to learn the fine art of meditation. While I learned a great deal in the process of learning to meditate, I found the experience of meditation to be very frustrating. I’m drawn to ideas, and reading, and studying. I love roaming around in the words that have been strung together by scholars, or historians or theologians, or philosophers or psychologists or even novelists. I thrive on the written word and so the scarcity of words that the discipline of meditation demands can often frustrate me.
I remember talking to a good friend of mine about the trouble I was having learning to meditate. Bryan had travelled all over the Far East and was an avid practitioner of transcendental meditation. He sympathized with my dilemma and suggested that perhaps my particular spiritual quest would need to be one that entailed letting go of words so that I could move beyond words.
I remember being dumbfounded by the idea of ever being able to let go of words. But Bryan insisted that unless I moved beyond words, I’d remain frustrated by my attempts to learn any form of meditation. I confessed that I had absolutely no idea where to begin. Bryan said that my basic problem was wrapped up in the weakness of my right mind. Before I could take offense, Bryan went on to explain that I was primarily a left-brain kind of gal. Bryan insisted that I needed to learn to develop the right hemisphere of my brain.
Even though I was familiar with the theories about right brain verses left brain, I had absolutely no idea about how to go about changing what I thought was the unchangeable reality that my left brain which is the area responsible for verbal and cognitive skills is the hemisphere that I tend to rely on rather than the right brain wherein lies the artistic, playful side of my nature.
I like words. I like the way words sound. I like the way the way words look. I like the meanings of words. I love the history of words. I love putting words together. I’m called to a profession that is all about words. So, asking me to move beyond words is like asking me to give up my lifeblood. But Bryan was determined to move me beyond words and made me promise that I’d meet him at his workplace the very next day.
Bryan is a pilot; a helicopter pilot. Bryan also knows that I’m afraid of heights and although I’ve conquered my fear of flying, I’m partial to fix-wing aircraft. Helicopters make me more than nervous; helicopters terrify me. Most of my fear of helicopters is Bryan’s fault. While Bryan was studying to fly helicopters he would share with me all of his newfound knowledge about helicopters. One thing stood out: helicopters are unreliable. The best mechanic can safety check a helicopter and certify that it is perfectly safe to take off and still the helicopter can malfunction and cause the pilot to have to land immediately. So, I wasn’t too crazy about meeting Bryan at work. But who am I to argue with a guy who is determined to develop my left brain.
That’s how I found myself hovering over the mountains of North Vancouver in a small helicopter that for some reason had no doors. I was strapped in and Bryan assured me that there was no way that I could fall out but there was something about all that fresh air that seemed a little too close for comfort. So I held on for dear life as Bryan headed North towards Garibaldi Mountain. As Garibaldi slipped out of followed by Blackcomb and Whistler the sheer beauty of all that lay before me filled me with such awe that my mind struggled to comprehend the splendor my eyes beheld. This of course was my left-brain on overdrive struggling to find words to describe the experience of my senses. It wasn’t until I heard Bryan’s voice through the crackly headset that I realized that rather than moving beyond words, my mind was flooded with words.
I asked Bryan where we were going and he pointed to a place on the northern horizon and told me that we were going to put down on the side of a mountain in a place that he knew that I would love. As we’d long since passed the boundaries of my ability to recognize the mountains by their shape, I turned to the map of the Bastion Range but could not read our location. Bryan motioned to a point in the distance and indicated that it would be there that he would land.
As we hovered over the spot, I wondered how he’d manage to land, when through the headset Bryan explained. It was too dangerous to actually land. Bryan would hover inches from the ground and if I was willing to go where few humans had ever been, I would step out of the chopper and huddle down on the ground as Bryan swooped back up into the air out of sight so that I could be alone in a place where Bryan was sure I’d find no words but one.
I was relieved that Bryan hadn’t explained all this while we were still on terra firma because I would never have agreed to the journey. But out there the appeal of the Alpine meadow perched on a mountainside was more than I could resist.
As the ground approached, I became convinced that I was about to die, but I was much younger then and far more reckless, and in seconds, I was hugging the earth and feeling the whoosh of the chopper as Bryan climbed. I knew that he’d be back in about 5 minutes, but as the sound left, it was replaced by the roar of a silence I’d never heard before. I stood up in time to see Bryan disappear behind the summit and discovered that I was literally on top of the world. I’ve rarely tired to put into words what happened next. I resisted doing so for years. I think out of some sort of belief that in trying to put it into words I’d rob it of its, its what, that’s just it, I don’t know what……Well I do know, I just don’t know how to say it.
Standing there looking out at what seemed like all of creation right there before me. Looking down at the vast valley below and up to the summit I could almost reach out and touch, blanketed by a sky that I was convinced I could walk out upon, because so much of it appeared to be below me and not above, my senses were overwhelmed.
I was alone and yet I knew I was not alone.
I’d like to say that I was conscious of a presence but that’s not really how it was.
Words don’t do it justice.
I was surrounded by it.
Not “it” really but “is”.
“Is” is about as close as I can come to describing it.
I was in the presence of, or surrounded by, or overwhelmed by, our upheld by or embraced by or touched by or loved by ISNESS.
GOD IS TOO SMALL A WORD TO DESCRIBE THIS ISNESS.
But there in the presence of all that IS, I had no need to describe IS, it was enough to simply be.
All words, and thoughts slipped away and it was enough to just be.
To be in the presence of BEING.
It’s more than beyond words, but as I try to explain what I felt on that mountainside, I’m struck by the fact that our ancestors speak of this ISNESS as YAHWEH…I AM WHO AM.
The verb “to be” is the very name of the God who is the source of all BEING.
The clearest way that I can point to and say “there that’s it that’s the pathway where you will meat this ISNESS” is to point to creation itself and say there, there right there in the creation of the Creator you will discover all that you need to know this ISNESS.
Standing there in the presence of ISNESS I could feel it.
There was no stillness except in me.
I was absolutely still except for the breath breathing in me.
All around me I could feel the energy of the meadow, the movement of the mountaintops that lay below me, and the dance of the sky, and the Breath of it all caressing me, holding me, touching me, holding me, moving in me, loving me.
As I loved it all, I could feel the tears rolling down my cheeks, taste them, as the spilled upon my lips.
I sobbed with delight.
As the WORD itself spoke to me through all that IS.
The Hebrew word in Genesis and in the first chapter of the Gospel of John that we translate as the “WORD of God” means so much more than our word, WORD can capture.
For us words cannot convey what the ancients spoke of when they tried to describe the creative energy that speaks into being all that is. The voice of God that says, let there be light and so it was IS more than our word WORD or words about the WORD can express or convey.
The Hebrew word that the ancients used is DABHAR and it literally means: “word and deed”. For the very utterance by the Creator of all that IS, is in and of itself a compelling creative energy.
THE DABHAR, then is the compelling force of creative energy that IS. So, we often describe it as the WORD, in all capitol letters.
For in the beginning was the WORD and the WORD was with GOD and the WORD was GOD. For GOD DABHAR light and it was, it was Good. GOD DABHAR the sky and DABHAR the waters and the earth below and it was good.
God went on Dabharing and Dabharing and this compelling creative word and deed that is God called forth all that is or ever shall be and it is good. We live and breathe and have our being in this very ISNESS that is all that IS and ever shall be. This Creation IS, and in this ISNESS we are held, and touched, and loved, and moved to be all that we are.
Can you hear the verb “to be”? Can you feel it?
When all words fall away it is the WORD that remains. The very DABHAR of our GOD who IS.
Creation is the sacred WORD of God. ALL that IS is in GOD.
If you want to know God you can catch a glimpse of God in all that God has made. Creation is the sacred DABHAR, the WORD AND DEED of GOD.
As part of creation each of us is DABHAR, for the WORD became flesh and dwells with us. You are God’s WORD and DEED. God speaks in with and through creation and so God speaks in with and through you.
The great Christian mystics speak of their experiences of God by pointing to creation. Hildegard of Bingen says, “The Word is living, being, spirit, all verdant greening, all creativity. This Word manifests itself in every creature.”
Meister Eckhart says, “Every creature is a word of God and is a book about God.” Creation itself Eckhart describes as the primary scripture, a Bible.
Our spiritual task is to get out of its way long enough that we might be filled with it and go about our task of healing, celebrating, and co-creating. For DABHAR the WORD wishes to incarnate us. Let the DABHAR the WORD become flesh and dwell among us.
Hear words as we begin to try to translate the New Testament in more Hebraic terms:
In the beginning was the DABHAR the Creative Energy:
The Creative Energy was with God
And the Creative Energy was God.
It was with God in the beginning.
Through it all things came to be,
Not one thing had its being but through it,
All that came to be had life in it
And that life was the light of persons,
A light that shines in the dark,
A light that darkness could not overpower…
The DABHAR, the Creative Energy was the true light
That enlightens all people;
And it was coming into the world.
It was in the world
That had its being through it,
And the world did not know it…
But to all who did accept it
It gave power to become children of God…
The Creative Energy was made flesh,
It pitched its tent among us,
And we saw its glory,
the glory that is its as the only Child of the Creator,
full of grace and full of truth.
Creation itself is a sacrament. Creation itself is the primary sacrament.
As I partook of that sacred sacrament on the mountainside, I never wanted it to end. But as the chopper came into view, I was keenly aware of how glad I was to be able to return to the world. Bryan insisted that he’d only been gone for five minutes but in those five minutes all of eternity had come into view. As we sailed passed mountaintops, I wept for the sheer joy of weeping. Long after the hum of the choppers noise subsided in my ears I could feel the ISNESS breathing in me as Bryan and I drove through the streets of Vancouver. All around me the beauty of the world was so clear, and I knew that God really does love it because I had a sense of why.
14 billion years is the inkling we have of the age of the universe. 14 billion years of creation that we know of, coming together to create all that IS now here in this place, in you and in me.
This ISNESS, this Creation is the original blessing that is life. You don’t need to travel to a mountaintop to see it. Wandering out into creation, the DEBHAR of GOD is not just speaking, God is shouting, declaring God’s love in the splendor of the leaves whose vibrant colours positively sing out I love you! Standing in the presence of the many children of God, you can almost taste God in the sacrament of DABHAR that each person is. The ISNESS is here all around us, breathing in with and through us, for the WORD has become flesh and dwells with us.
Let all creation sing out with joy!
I am indebted to Mathew Fox whose book “Original Blessing” provided me with words to express the inexpressible!
Given the choice between the doctrine of original sin and the teachings of Jesus, I’m with Jesus!
For centuries the church’s doctrine of Original Sin, has defined human nature as inherently sinful. We are born cursed by the first sin of Adam. Born, some would insist, of bodily sin. Somehow the doctrine of Original Sin, permeates our understanding of the very act of procreation, and in the minds of too many, tainted the very idea of sex with sin. We are born of sin, into sin, and as such must die to our sins. So, we wash away our sins in the waters of baptism and are reborn as forgiven sinners. For years and years this has been the modus operandi of the institutional church.
This predominant doctrine of the church does not fare well when it comes to Jesus. Jesus knew nothing of Original Sin. Jesus was a good and faithful Jew. Original Sin is not Jewish. Original Sin is not in the Bible. For a good three-hundred years after the resurrection, the church had no doctrine of Original Sin. Today, Orthodox Christians have no doctrine of Original Sin. And yet the Roman Catholic and Protestant denominations have built their institutions on the Doctrine of Original Sin. I dare say that for a good many of us, our very psyche’s have been shaped by the doctrine of Original Sin. Most of us relate to God, as sinners in need of Grace. While there is no doubt that humanity is indeed sinful, I’d like to suggest that we look to the teachings of Jesus, and the ancient traditions of Christianity to recover a sense of the goodness of creation.
We are, as the stories handed down by our ancestors insist, created in the image of our Creator, and we are good. We are as Jesus insisted, loved and blessed. We are as the letter to the Ephesians declares, “God’s work of art” We are as the saints of old have known and written, “God’s delight.” We are as science proves over and over again wondrously made.
Every day as we learn more and more about creation and our place in it, we know that the ancient nomadic tribesmen of the Middle East got a few things wrong. There was no pristine human state. No time when humans were perfect. There was no fall from grace. The story of the fall is just that, a story told by an ancient tribe to try to explain their relationship to their Creator. Yes there is much truth to be learned from the story. But we cannot learn the whole truth from this ancient tale and we must not base our image of ourselves on this story.
We are wondrously made. We have learned so much down through the centuries and if we are to continue to follow the teachings of Jesus then we “must love God with our whole heart, with our whole soul, and with our whole mind.” We cannot check our brains at the door and don the persona of those “in bondage to sin” who cannot free themselves.
We have learned much about the cosmos over the centuries and that knowledge, despite our worst fears, does not diminish God. The more we learn about the cosmos and our place in it the more we learn of our Creator and the more we come to realize that it is good.
We live in a post-Darwinian world. We know about evolution. We know that humans have evolved and are continuing to evolve and this miraculous reality is to be celebrated and not feared. Creation is an ongoing reality. “All of creation has been groaning in one great act of giving birth.”
But sadly for some, it’s as if the Creator is throwing a marvelous banquet, and we are so preoccupied with our misunderstandings and distractions that we are refusing to attend. It’s long past time to free ourselves from the doctrine of original sin and embrace the sacredness of humanity.
The universe itself is full of grace. It’s time to open our arms to the embrace of the One who is, was, and ever more shall be, the One who lives and breathes in with and through us. The force that permeates the cosmos. We can hold on to our wounds or we can let them go and move on.
I’m not saying that there is no evil in the world, or that we are without error. But like Dr. Martin Luther King I believe that “the moral arch of the universe bends toward justice” and that standing on the shoulders of all those who have gone before us, creation has the potential to evolve. As part of creation we have the potential to evolve, so that each generation does a little better than the generation before. That means taking responsibility for our mistakes. Confession is good for us. We can’t learn from our mistakes unless we confess them. We can’t heal from our wounds if we don’t know what they are. We can’t develop if we don’t take a look at our shortcomings. We can’t simply let ourselves off the hook by saying it was ever thus, “We are by nature sinful.” and then keep doing the same things over and over.
Jesus’ life, death and resurrection calls us to do the work of improving our relationships with God and with one another, and to celebrate the goodness, the beauty, the grace, and the love that permeates creation.
There’s no time to wallow in our unworthiness. The banquet of blessings is well underway! It’s long past time to celebrate the blessing that Creation is. We’ve wasted enough time wallowing in original sin. It’s time to stand up and look around us at the original blessing in which we live and breath and have our being.
We are wondrously made! It’s time to embrace our Creator’s work; it’s time to embrace our humanity!
Re-reading Matthew Fox’s “Original Blessing”, I am reminded that although the doctrine of original dominates so much of Christianity theology and practice, there has from the very beginning been a splendid chorus of alternative voices who have heralded our Original Blessing. Contemporary voices are lending their voices to the chorus as we open our minds to the wonders that surround us in the cosmos.