Thursday, November 1, 2012

#108. The Universe in Each Infant

ARCHIVE. For a list of all my published posts:

This post is the 8th in a series of blog entries beginning with #101-- a collection of notes and essays from my files all dealing in one way or another with the emerging new religious consciousness. They are mostly things I've written over the last decade to clarify my own thoughts but which I now want to make available for anyone who might be interested.

Post #108 is a kind of informal book review with personal notes that I wrote for a relative and some friends who had asked about Mary Coelho's book "Awakening Universe, Emerging Personhood."

If you have questions and think I might help, you're welcome to send me a note:


Awakening Universe, Emerging Personhood: The Power of Contemplation in an Evolving Universe - Mary Coelho - ISBN: 1556053541 (Wyndham Hall Press, 2002)

This is the first book I know that attempts to integrate science, religion and psychology. It does so not from an ivy tower academic point of view but rather from that of individuals struggling to make sense of their lives in our confusing times.

The science is not that of 19th century materialism but 21st century evolutionary thought and quantum mechanics. The religion is not that of private morality and fear of punishment but the deep contemplaive perspectives of the Western religious tradition. And the psychology is the depth perspectives stemming from Jungian thought and an understanding of personal development based on the findings about early childhood development ignored by much of 20th century psychology.

The scientific worldview presented here is the new cosmology: the evolutionary perspectives of biology and the unconventional views of quantum physics that recognize the world not as static but dynamic. This in itself is a major change in consciousness; in fact, perhaps the biggest change in human awareness since human awareness first appeared on Earth. It sees the world going somewhere, with a direction and purpose, an unfolding in some way of the world's ultimate source. In this new cosmological view, life and personal awareness is not improbable; rather, human consciousness has a central place in the dynamic cosmos. Even these basic views of contemporary science haven't yet reached the ordinary person in the streets.

The dynamic worldview of modern science is integrated by Mary C. with the deepest aspects of the western religious tradition. "Religion" here means far more than a personal ethical perspective or a private morality. Not "save your soul, go to heaven" type of thing. Its focus is that personal communion with the ultimate mystery that is at the basis of global religions' unitive or contemplative perspectives.

The integration of these scientific and religious perspectives far transcends the on-going science-religion debates; it sees their resolution not in academic theories but in the hearts of individuals. It recognizes each person as being called forth by the universe.... with the "charge" of making themselves-- as their "work of works" and their participation and contribution to the goals of the cosmos.

The author's starting point is not theoretical but personal: the unexpected tragic death of her parents' four year-old son a few days after she was born. Her struggles to make sense of her life and to bring it to some degree of healing account for the profoundly cosmic and profoundly personal perspective offered here. She has a strong Quaker heritage, as well as a background in personal therapy and degrees in science and theology.

The chapter on the evolutionary worldview is the best summary I've seen anywhere of the modern scientific/evolutionary perspective. It is a masterpiece in itself. The chapter on the contemplative traditions of the west is equally well done: familiar names such as Plotinus, Gregory of Nyssa, Meister Eckhart and Teresa of Avila appear here. The psychology section includes familiar names such as C. G. Jung, but also some far less familiar names whose empirical findings have been ignored by 20th century thought. Each of these parts of the book are excellent in themselves, but it is the overall integrative worldview, with its important focus on child-rearing ideals, that makes the book unique and so valuable. 

All of our contemporary problems, from environmental disasters to religious fundamentalism and the oppression of women find their place here. But of most significance, as I see it, is the emphasis on the need for loving care of young children. Every mother is invited to become a theotokos, bearer of the primordial God-consiousness in her infant, and it is as to do as picking up the infant when the child needs it, and smiling at the baby.

The final chapters deal with the means by which the difficulties of life are so often dealt with: incomplete "formation" results in the hungry wolf or angry dragon..... then the cover up by pretense of perfection... and the resulting fear and hatred we experience in our society daily.

To me the most fascinating aspect of the book is her focus on the place of "the person" in the new science story. Of the three-fold transition we’re in-- a new consciousness of the divine, the cosmic and the human-- it’s that third one-- the role of personal consciousness in cosmic evolution, which we don’t even have a name for yet-- that she’s especially good at. Mary Coelho stresses that the universe is becoming conscious of itself in each infant. Her focus on the humanity aspect of the immense transition-- on what infants need in order to gradually grow into fully mature persons, as understood from both the evolutionary context and that of western religion’s mystical perspectives-- is quite powerful.

In a Michael Dowd & Connie Barlow review they say this is the first new cosmology-related book to do this kind of needed integration. It’s challenging material. Not really difficult, but most definitely not casual reading. Sister Miriam MacGillis-- friend of Thomas Berry and Brian Swimme and founder of Genesis Farm-- said it moved her to tears. Couldn't get a better recommendation! +++

No comments: