Wednesday, October 14, 2009

#57. College 50th-Anniversary Report


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When my high school graduation class had their 50th anniversary in 2005, we were asked to write a report on "what we've been up to in recent years."


I wrote about my continuing interest in the convergence of science and religion. It was a bit different from the more conventional reports that said things like "had our third grandchild," "now winter in Florida" and "still enjoy playing golf."

Writing that report for my fellow high school graduates had a numinous feeling for me. When I look back, I can see that it was the start of what I like to think of as my late-in-life calling to share my thoughts about the convergence of science and religion.

Among other things, it led to the start of this blog, where I published the report as post #3.

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My college graduation class also had a 50th anniversary reunion-- four years later, of course; it was in May of this year (2009). The college, Saint Joseph's University in Philadelphia, was founded in 1851, so it's one of the oldest Jesuit schools in the United States. I taught in the theology department there during the 1980s.

The college reunion was a three-day event. I hadn't previously attended any high school or college reunions-- they're just not my cup of tea. But because more than a third of my fellow college graduates had died over the fifty years since graduation, I attended the opening event of the class of 1959 reunion, a memorial service, followed by lunch.

We were asked to send in a report for that reunion, too. Since friends have suggested that I try to make my posts "more personal," I'm sharing here that second report along with some reflections about both reports.

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The Alumni Relations Office provided us with some good questions for the Memory Book.

• What memory or memories of the College have been most persistent over the years?

• What aspect of your St. Joe's experience did you want your children (and grandchildren) to enjoy when they reach college age?

• What part of your SJC experience influenced your personal/professional life?

• If you could return to the 1950s for just one day, is there any one thing you would do at Saint Joe's that you now wish you had done back then? What?

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Here are the responses I sent in:

The memories of the College that have been most persistent over the years for me and which have had a major impact on my personal and professional life mostly have to do with the wonderful discoveries I made not in classrooms or the cafeteria but in the college library. My world became immensely bigger thanks to those discoveries.

They had to do with the depth of knowledge and wisdom available to us from the sciences and our religious traditions with regard to human self-understanding and of our place in the universe. I remember especially discovering the evolutionary perspectives of Teilhard de Chardin, the psychological views of C. G. Jung in connection with the Roman liturgy, and the American church's social conscience as expressed by Catholic Worker founder Dorothy Day.

My interest in science and religion led me to get masters degrees in both areas, and to teach one or the other in high school or college for forty years. In retirement I continue to pursue the integration of those areas. I'm especially interested in contemporary discoveries in cultural anthropology and neuroscience and their relevance to the nature of religious experience.

I've recently completed a two-year effort to share my thoughts about the convergence of science and religion via a blog (www.sammackintosh.blogspot.com) and I'm currently working on supplementing those thoughts with background images and personal stories. I also hope eventually to have something of significance to say about the role of ritual in contemporary humanity's cultural development. A long-term plan is to produce a non-dualistic version of the traditional service of Advent Lessons and Carols in light of what's been learned in recent years about modern cosmology and Divine Sophia.

The college where I taught was Saint Joseph's University, so I'll pass on returning for a day to the college of the 1950s. Needless to say, it was an interesting experience teaching in the theology department of my own alma mater.

I think I did, back in the 50s, what I needed to do. And I'm grateful for the opportunity to have done it. My wish for my children and grandchildren-- and, indeed, for all of the children of the Earth-- is that every one of them may have the same kind of opportunity, both for self-discovery and for an understanding of our contemporary world, that I had. -Sam Mackintosh

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When I compare the two reports I see that the same basic ideas show up in both. That helps me to define better what I've called my "late-in-life vocation" to share my thoughts about the convergence of science and religion.

Because both the high school and college were Catholic institutions, I felt comfortable using essentially religious language in the reports. In post #3 (the high school report), I noted that "I think these same ideas can be expressed in the language of contemporary science, but obviously this was not the place to do it."

I've learned that it's a lot easier to talk about science in the context of religion than it is to talk about religion in the context of science.

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The high school report describes my thoughts as they were in 2005, but the college report-- although it was written four years later-- gives a better sense of how those ideas got started.

When I put the two reports together and add what I've learned since I retired in 2000, I get a pretty good over-all picture of my story--where I'm coming from and where I seem to be going.

My interest in cosmology leaps out. Wanting to understand "our place in the grand scheme of things" heads the list. It's the story of my life.

Although maybe I should say "cosmology and depth psychology," since C. G. Jung as well as Teilhard de Chardin shows up on both reports. I guess "the story of my life" really is both-- pursuing self-understanding and an understanding of our place in the universe.

And the basic context for my story is cosmic evolution.

I mean "evolution" in the broadest sense: the dynamic unfolding of the physical universe. It includes not just the formation of planets and the origins of life on Earth, but also the emergence and development of humans-- of ourselves both as individuals and as a species on our planet. 

And it especially includes humanity's cultural development.
So, asking “What is our place in the vast scheme of things?”-- in the context of the immense transition from a static to a dynamic world view happening in our time-- really is what I've been all about. And sharing my thoughts about it is what the blog is all about.

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Most of the things I've mentioned in the posts over the last two-and-half years are really just details about the understanding of ourselves as a continuation of the cosmic process.

Just listing some of those "details" is fun: ritual, liturgy, social justice, ecology, cultural anthropology, neuroscience, the four-fold nature of the mind, the nature of religious experience, the importance of images and stories, the Native American medicine wheel teachings, the Sophia-Wisdom perspectives at the heart of western religion and-- most especially-- the Immense Transition currently happening as we move away from religious dualism and the patriarchal exploitation of the Earth toward a more balanced world view.

I thought I might also list the names of some of the persons especially important in helping us understand ourselves and human culture in terms of cosmic evolution, but I decided the list would be far too long. Maybe I can do that in a future post.

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Many of these details about ourselves which the dynamic-evolutionary perspective gives us are new to all of us. I think the most unfamiliar is the central place of personal consciousness in the evolution of the universe. The static world view just doesn't have a place for human beings as co-creative participants in the cosmic process.

Besides major changes in our thinking about the cosmos and our place in it, the evolutionary world view also offers a significant new perspective about our relationship with the world's creative source.

I have offered a brief summary of my thoughts along those lines in several posts. "The Mystery gives itself to us as the world and ourselves, guides and directs us, gathers us as individuals from all time and the four corners of space into a wondrous celtic knot and into a global community of diverse peoples (which early Christians called the ekklesia), and most significantly, promises our completion and fulfillment and the persistence of our relationships in the in-gathering of all beyond the passing away of things."

That last statement seems to be the most difficult for western culture's analytical mode of consciousness to deal with-- even for many who are otherwise comfortable with the new cosmology. Religious fundamentalists have a problem with an evolutionary origins of things, new cosmologists seem to have a problem with an evolutionary fulfillment of things.

We need a bigger picture. We need both an alpha and an omega. The noted author and lecturer Benedictine sister Joan Chittister recently published online a fine column called "the God who beckons." It deals specifically with how the evolutionary perspective provides us with a more adequate understanding of a God who is, as she says, "big enough to believe in."

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There's one important aspect of my "late-in-life vocation" which doesn't show up in the high school and college reports. It's that I find in myself an inborn drive to share my understanding of the connections between evolutionary cosmology and the world religions with anyone interested.
I call it my "teacher instinct."

It, too, as I see it, is an aspect of the cosmic process. It's nothing less than an expression, via the genes I inherited from my ancestors, of the same divine energy (spiritus) which the Wisdom core of the Judeo-
Christian tradition sees "present and active at the heart of all creation."
And that is, of course, what my blog is all about: the convergence of science and religion.

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While modern science is approximately 500 years old, and provides us with a clear understanding of our physical place in the universe, religion been around about 400 times as long. When we put those two facts together, it's obvious that religious consciousness itself is part of the evolutionary process.

And we-- humanity as a whole-- are just coming to realize that fact.
When we see everything "under the arc of evolution," as Teilhard words it, we can see that just as our planet emerged from the dust of stars, and just as life emerged on the Earth from its chemical elements and compounds, and just as human self-awareness emerged from the complexity of the brains of earlier primates, so, in the same way, the world's great religions emerged out of the complexity of human self-awareness.

If fundamentalists, who remain stuck in an unchanging static world view, have a tough time with the idea that human consciousness emerged "from the complexity of the brains of earlier primates," they have an even tougher time with the idea that our western religious tradition itself "emerged out of the complexity of human self-awareness."

But without the dynamic evolutionary perspective which understands the divine creative spiritus to be operating at every level of the cosmic process, those in the static worldview have only what a friend recently described as "an interventionist illumination from above."

In the previous post I mentioned how the 10th-century Greek saint, Symeon the New Theologian, says that we are divinized even in our genitals, and that to think otherwise is blasphemous. I think it will eventually be seen as equally blasphemous to deny that the creative spiritus is active at the heart of the world even in the emergence of humanity's religious traditions-- including our own western Judeo-Christian tradition.

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As the friend I just mentioned said, the fact that "the universe has processes that can raise religious consciousness rather than reliance on interventionist illumination from above is obvious-- but challenging to communicate."

It's that challenge I struggle with in this blog's many posts. We need to be clear about the details-- the kinds of things I've listed above-- before the obvious dawns on us. So I'm always on the lookout for better ways to express whatever can promote an understanding of the changes the evolutionary worldview offers. In some ways, that's the "story of my life."

I've often said, "I wish I were a poet." I wish I had the skills with words which poets and story-tellers have, so I would be able to express well those many details about the convergence of science and religion we need for "the dawning of the obvious" to take place in our minds and hearts.

But I'm not a poet. Just making the effort at communicating well seems to be what I'm to be about. That's the main thing I want to share in this post about the report for my college's 50th-anniversary reunion.

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As I was working on this post, a friend sent me a brief poem by American poet Mary Oliver

Instructions for living a life.

Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.

That's what I've been doing. I've done it in two reunion reports and in an brief autobiography in post #7. But now my introverted self is saying to me, "This can be pretty boring stuff."

And it would be, except for one thing-- these kinds of thoughts and feelings need to be shared.

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Without a dynamic understanding of "our place in the scheme of things" we are cut off from the world of nature, we're alienated from ourselves, and in that context we can't even hear the "God who beckons."

Without an evolutionary cosmology we don't have a goal-- an omega-- and we don't even have a decent alpha, either.

All we have is fear.

It's fear that got George W. Bush re-elected, fear that allows the torture of humans and fear that promotes the destruction of our environment. It's fear that caused many schools, at the start of the new school year, to keep their students from watching a new Black President encourage kids to do their homework. And it's fear that opposes his efforts to provide for universal health care.

Who needs that?


PS. Three recent New York Times columnists have described this situation of fear, hatred, hostility and ignorance well: Charles M. Blow ("Ephemeral Comfort of Conservatism"), Roger Cohen ("The Public Imperative") and Paul Krugman ("The Politics of Spite"). Worth reading, if you didn't see them.

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ARCHIVE TECHNICAL PROBLEM: Since I started this new series of posts, each time I publish one, an earlier one vanishes from my Archives list; they're still there, just not visible. Until tech support can deal with this, I'm putting links to those "missing" posts here.
#6. Tai Chi

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1 comment:

Sam said...

While trying to eliminate numerous spam comments, I inadvertently deleted all comments at the END of the posts up until #90. BUT... they are still preserved in the collections of comments found in posts #32, #67 and #83.

One set of comments, however-- for posts #84 to #89-- has been completely lost. If you happen to have copied any of them, I'd much appreciate your sending a copy to me so I can restore them. Thanks.