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I wrote this "report" about the convergence of science and religion in the summer of 2005 for the fiftieth-anniversary reunion of my high school graduation class.
A three-day weekend-reunion had been planned for October at a resort hotel on the Jersey shore. Everyone, attending or not, was invited to send notes about what they've been up to in recent years, to be published in an anniversary booklet and given to all who attended or sent in a report.
The planning committee had done something like this for the 45th anniversary, five years earlier. Most of those earlier reports were along the lines of "had our third grandchild," "still enjoy playing golf" and "now winter in Florida."
It felt important for me to send something less conventional and which, at some level, might serve as a contribution to increased awareness of the convergence of science and religion. The project had a numinous feeling about it. Because it was addressed to graduates of a Catholic high school, I felt comfortable using essentially religious language. I think these same ideas can be expressed in the language of contemporary science, but obviously this was not the place to do it.
Dear Fiftieth Anniversary Committee:
I'm unable to attend the reunion, but here's a report on what I've been up to in the last few years.
You know how people with a strong thinking function tend to ask a lot of questions? If they also have strong intuitive ability (a rare combo in our society), their questions come down to something like: “What is our place in the vast scheme of things?”
That's the story of my life. I’ve been asking that kind of question since I was eight years old. There never was a time when I wasn't interested in science and religion. (Make that "nature and spirituality," if you're anti-institutional-- and who isn't, these days?)
I’ve never doubted that science and religion are compatible; they seem to be two sides of the same coin. Since retirement I’ve been giving a good bit of time and energy to thinking through my understanding of their convergence. I find fascinating, what many of the front-running scientific thinkers, Jungian psychologists and religious writers have to say about "where we fit in." I have in mind people like Teilhard de Chardin, Thomas Berry and James Hillman, for example. But there are many others, whose names are not yet as well-known. A short list would include Bede Griffiths, Sergius Bulgakov, Brian Swimme, Jean Houston, Connie Barlow, Raymond Panikkar, Mary Conrow Coelho, Bruno Barnhart.
Although they each use very different words, they all seem to be saying something similar: that we humans are an integral part of the evolving universe and that we thrive in dynamic relationship with the cosmic Mystery. Even views as diverse as the New Cosmology of contemporary science and the Sophia tradition within Russian Orthodoxy seem to be saying the same thing.
What they are saying is something like this: that the Mystery gives itself to us as the world and ourselves, that it guides and directs us, that it gathers us as individuals for all time from the four corners of space into a wondrous celtic knot and into a global community of diverse peoples (early Christians called it the ekklesia) and-- most significantly-- that it promises our completion and fulfillment and the persistence of our relationships in the in-gathering of all beyond the passing away of things. (And we start out as stardust!)
But it's up to us to do our part: we each have a personal and unique contribution to make. I've also become especially interested in the four-fold nature of the human mind and heart that many of these perspectives point to (with regard to how we are aware of and interact with the world). Some are so old they're new: Native American medicine wheel teachings, for example. They offer access to a much needed contemporary understanding, for individuals and the global community, of the inner processes of growth and development necessary for our healing, balance and wholeness.
So, as a life-long explorer of the convergence of cosmic evolution and personal and social development, I am delighted to find myself being given the time, energy and good health to pursue these explorations.
For a thinking type, it's a great adventure. And when I'm not busy "exploring," you will find me helping with the garden or mowing the lawn. Maybe practicing tai chi. And, often enough, taking care of two young grandsons who live across the street. As the famous Lakota leader, Black Elk, prayed toward the end of his life, "May all the children of the world see better days."
My report was ten times longer than most of the others, and although I never got a word of feedback from any of my fellow graduates, writing it was a major start in a new phase of my life. As I said above, it had a numinous feeling for me. It still does.
I want to say something about some of the wording I used to express the four main ideas of the report. This can serve as a brief informal introduction to some of the things I hope to share in future blog entries.
1) The statement that the Mystery "gives itself to us as the world and ourselves" is my own wording. I first came up with it about 20 years ago as a way of trying to express what I've since learned to call a unitive-- in contrast to dualistic-- understanding of the relationship between the world and its creative source.
2) I am aware that, to many readers, my second statement, that the Mystery "guides and directs us," may sound especially naive. But I think a good case can be made for it, especially in terms of consciousness as the "interface," as Jay Tolson puts it, between the Quantum Plenum and the physical world. [See blog entry #1, where I quote Tolson's words about the mind (soul, spirit, person) as "a profoundly complex emergent system whose capacity for intentional acts and creative discoveries connects it with the underlying order of reality."] When I wrote this reunion report, however, I did not know about the Biogenetic Structuralist context for contemporary studies of the brain and nervous system. My intuitive sense that the Mystery "guides and directs us" comes from things like my understanding of the workings of the Jungian Trickster archetype, of the teacher role attributed to Sophia in the "old" testament wisdom literature, and of the perspectives which underlie both the Native American vision quest and the contemporary concern for an alternative to patriarchal masculinity in a "grounded" or "sacred manhood."
3a) The first half of the third idea, that the Mystery "gathers us as individuals for all time from the four corners of space into a wondrous celtic knot," are Teilhard's words. He didn't include the word "celtic," however. I added it because I'd noticed that celtic knots appear in the paintings of new cosmology author and artist, Mary Conrow Coelho, and in that context they seemed to me to be a good image of the mystery of person which we are. Mary's book is Awakening Universe, Emerging Personhood (Wyndham Hall Press, 2002). It's a wonderful affirmation of the central place of person and the diversity of personal consciousness in cosmic evolution.
3b) The second half of the third statement, that the Cosmic Mystery gathers us "into a global community of diverse peoples," is my own wording. I used the Greek term ekklesia for the community because its English equivalent evokes such negative responses nowadays. As odd as it may sound, my ecclesiological perspectives comes primarily from my life-long interest in religious ritual. And although it may sound even odder, I can say that that experience makes good sense in terms of what I've since learned from the neurological studies of Eugene D'Aquili and Andrew Newberg that I mentioned blog entry #1. It's not easy reading, but if you're interested in ritual you might want to look especially the third part of D'Aquili and Newberg's The Mystical Mind: Probing the Biology of Religious Experience (Fortress Press, 1999).
4) The wording of the fourth statement-- that the Mystery "promises our completion and fulfillment and the persistence of our relationships in the in-gathering of all beyond the passing away of things"-- comes directly from the writings of Bruno Barnhart, in his Second Simplicity: The Inner Shape of Christianity (Paulist Press, 1999). Bruno is also mentioned in my initial blog entry. I find his work especially significant.
The reference at the end of the fourth statement to our having "started out as stardust" is simply an expression of the awe I experience when reflecting on our origins and destiny in the context of modern science and post-dualistic religion. I'd really like to be a poet!
But I know to stick with ideas. I hope to expand on each of the four main ideas of this reunion report, provide more book titles, and spell out those themes in terms of what I know of both science and religion, in additional entries.
Thursday, January 4, 2007