Saturday, November 24, 2012

#136. The Old Creation Story & the New Creation Story

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Post #136 is the first of three collections of thoughts and reflections based on the only book I know which deals explicitly with what the Christian Church looks like in the Big History perspectives of the New Cosmology.

The book is The Holy Web: Church and the New Universe Story by Cletus Wessels (Orbis Books, 2000). The author is a Dominican priest, pastor and theologian in the Midwestern United States.


He begins the Preface by noting that Christianity emerged in the context of a patriarchal society and a religious culture founded on the bible story of creation. Both of these perspectives need to be reinterpreted in the light of modern science’s creation story and the rise of feminism.

His hope to help readers to a new and positive way of looking at the church. I think he is probably more clerical than he realizes.

Wessels seems to see feminism as replacing patriarchy, but doesn't address the issue that patriarchy isn't going to be given up voluntarily unless an alternative to the patriarchal form of masculinity is available.

He says that a non-patriarchal and non-hierarchical Christian church would be unrecognizable; the question is whether Christianity can adjust to such a new worldview. It can, surely; but just as surely it seems unlikely to, anytime in the near future.

He also seems to think that modern science, evolution and concepts like Field Theory, Chaos Theory and dissipative structures might can improve peoples' views of the church. But if the now dead liturgical renewal couldn’t improve peoples’ views of the church, it's difficult to see how science ideas can.

Despite my reservations, I want to emphasize that the vision of this book that makes it especially stimulating.


Part One says, “We need a new story and we have one.” And, as Wessels notes in the first chapter, that the winds of change threaten to destroy the ancient churches.

Everything is different now. The known age of the world, the speed of travel and communication, our perceptions of psyche, somos and kosmos, the presence of Protestant churches and the non-Christian religions, the experience of women, and the no-longer-effective hierarchical authority-- all provide an opportunity for transformation.

If, as Karl Rahner says, “the Mystery is always and everywhere making itself known to us,” I ask what is the Mystery making known about itself in this collapse of the ancient churches?

Personally, I think they don’t need to survive now: the spiritualities which those churches preserved have now become the property of all the world.


Wessels says "Paradigm shifts are intuitive. A pattern leaps out: you see it, or you don’t. And when things don’t work, they change."
Transformation results in a new story, new symbols and new guiding wisdom. As I see it, in our contemporary situation the story is cosmic evolution; the rite is the basic rituals of native peoples; and wisdom is asking for the help from the cosmic forces, earth-energies, plant spirits and animal powers.

The paradigm shift ultimately is about the place and role of the individual person in the universe. The New Story says to each one of us: "Don’t be afraid. You count. Your life is not trivial. The universe needs you."

This is precisely what spirituality is about. It includes instruction: “Since the world needs you, you therefore need to relate, to listen, to be sensitive, to be-friend the earth.”


The second chapter presents a summary of The New Creation Story.

We live in an expanding universe, 15 billion years old, and on a 5 billion year old planet where life emerged early and consciousness emerged only recently. Matter is alive in a dance of waves and particles. The realization of this scientific evolutionary view of the world is the greatest religious, humanistic, cultural and spiritual event of many centuries.

The Christian doctrine of the Fall isn’t part of this New Story! Only a new understanding of consciousness itself will permit the “alteration of consciousness” to be understood as “salvific.” Altered awareness is the most fundamental personal transformation possible; it is an “ontological” change.

The old story puts “man” in charge, and justifies the simple and ubiquitous view, “Work to get stuff.” Accumulating stuff is a kind of protection against the world. “They made clothes,” says Genesis of Adam & Eve. Not to cover their nakedness, out of shame, but to protect themselves, because of fear.

Stuff is obtained at the expense of the earth. The New Story sees humanity as a late-comer to and as dependent on the earth, part of the community of species, and participators in the co-creative process.


A big question is: "If we don’t want stuff, what do we want?" And the answer is "Meaning"-- “communion with Mystery” and to be in harmony with the seasons. As Berry says, We need to go back to our genetic roots, to recover the sacramental worldview.

But this involved a major change in thinking. We need to reevaluate what we once considered evil: chaos, darkness, the shadow side of things.

Such things need to be seen now as a normal part of the cosmic evolutionary process. We also need to see, therefore, that a salving/redemptive activity is an aspect of the universe’s functioning-- that the passover mystery is built right into the cosmos.

The cosmos itself is paschal. “The universe has an inner self-organizing and self-healing power that enables it to bring order out of chaos” so that the redemptive power of God is built into the very substance of the world. And this is what is highlighted in the story of Jesus.


A good definition of church is “the community of those who-- because of their attention to the Jesus story-- see that the cosmos itself is redemptive." I think, How important it is, then, to celebrate the passover process! Via the seder. Via pesanky. Via the Easter breakfast.
We celebrate one of the most fundamental principles of the cosmic process when at the Seder a young child asks, “Why is this night different from all other nights?”


Cosmic evolution is theophany. In the history of humanity, fire is one of the most profound images of the Mystery’s presence in matter; and sitting together around a fire is one of the most profound images of the Mystery’s presence in our communal lives.

Wessels presents a wonderful summary of humanness as it emerged during the Paleolithic Age: hunting, tool-using and tool-making, clothing, fire, language, burials, art, story, spirituality and community.


Wessels notes that the Neolithic and Civilization periods involve what every young person has to deal with today: God, sex and money; i.e., earning a living, relating to others, and making sense of it all.

Here, the adolescent nature of patriarchy is clear, and so then is the contemporary need to go beyond the adolescent hero.

Adolescence is defined as the beginnings of self-consciousness: when it is just starting to experience itself, consciousness names that experience “isolation” and “alienation.”

It understands itself in terms of its need for power-over all, since everything threatens.

Adolescence implies lack of reflection (or, better, just the beginnings of it), and includes undisciplined drives for novelty, excitement and self-gratification. The result of this perspective is the economic world view of patriarchs who see our great need to be the acquisition of stuff for protection.

An interesting thing here is the idea that adolescent (patriarchal) males think of themselves as adults. They see their situation (adolescence or patriarchal culture) as the human norm! Even feminists seem to do this.

How important, then, Allen Chinen's insight that we need to go beyond the hero!

In contrast to those adolescent and patriarchal princes who try to make everything go their way, authentic adults do not need to dominate others.

They can relate via reverence, respect and friendship.

Not competition but communal commitment is their mode of operation.

Authentic adults accept responsibility. I see that “Quaker reverence "for that of God in everyone” is especially important.


The evolutionary process on earth is now in the hands of humans. We need to learn to listen to the earth. Some of us are especially called to listen, to be especially sensitive to the earth/cosmos itself as shamanic hearers.


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