Powers of the Universe
Powers of the Universe: Part Ten
All the powers of the universe are one, seamlessly involved with one another, present everywhere in the universe, coursing through us, trying to bring forth Radiance.
In his concluding talk in the DVD series, “The Powers of the Universe” Brian Swimme speaks about Radiance.
The most powerful presence of Radiance is the sun. In its core, the sun creates helium out of compressed hydrogen, releasing light. The process of fusion generates photons. Light emanates in waves which collapse into photon particles, creating light. The sun is also giving off messenger particles called gravitons that mediate the gravitational interaction by penetrating the earth, pulling the earth to the sun. We see the light, and feel the gravitational pull.
The moon also has Radiance, but not from creating light through fusion as the sun does. The photons that come from the moon are created by the sun’s activity on the moon. The moon releases the light thus created, also bathing us with gravitons, to which the earth responds, as in the tides of the seas.
It is an ongoing activity of the universe to radiate. Even in the depths of the earth, everything radiates LIGHT. Radiance is the primary language of the universe.
We are frozen light… Brian Swimme says that every being we meet holds fourteen billion years of radiance. The twentieth century mystic Thomas Merton saw with clarity the gap between this stunning reality and our capacity to see it, and wondered how we might tell people that they are walking around shining like the sun!
Yet, by a willingness to see deeply, we can develop a subtle spirit that responds to the depths of spirit in another, a container that responds to the beauty of the other. The archetypal example of this kind of depth perception,Swimme says, is a mother beholding her child. What is a mother seeing in the eyes of her child? This is the depthperception of beauty. When we look into the eyes of another do we see colour and shape only as in a surface, machine-like mentality or do we see flowing, radiating out of the eyes, the essence, the fullness of the person, his or her depth? Light is a flow of emotions: light as joy, sadness, pouring out from another. Think what can happen with one glance where we fall in love so deeply that the rest of our life is changed: we contain the Radiance that is streaming out of another.
When, on a sleepless night, Swimme suggests, we go outdoors and see the stars, difficulties melt away and we are smothered with deep peace. Something glorious is streaming into us, something so deeply felt that we find peace in our at-homeness in the universe. When we look down and see fireflies (flashing to interest their mates) we realize we are participating in an amazingly sacred event.
We are drawn into the depth of things and when we go there we find the future direction of the universe. The earth makes rubies and sapphires out of elements that come together, that explode and sparkle with Radiance, as though the universe is trying to tell us something about our aliveness in the realm of possibility!
We sit by the ocean, drawn into what is really real, something that is attempting to establish a deep bond withus. The magnificence of ocean/sand/sky wants to sparkle forth like a sapphire. We feel what reverberates out,Swimme says, as if completing the beauty that’s there.
We enter into relationship with the Radiance of the universe through resonance and that is the primary form of prayer. Reverberation is the primary sacrament. Webecome the radiance that is flooding the world. If the resonance is deep enough, it fills our being so that we reverberate with the being of the other. The Radiance becomes the being. We are resonant with another when we begin to reverberate with the one we see. We are then in a non-dual relationship with another. There is great joy in developing this level of interaction with life.
The mystics intuited radiance long before the physicists described it. Teilhard de Chardin, the French Jesuit priest and paleontologist who died in 1955, wrote: “Throughout my whole life during every moment I have lived, the world has gradually been taking on light and fire for me, until it has come to envelop me in one mass of luminosity, glowing from within...The purple flash of matter fading imperceptibly into the gold of spirit, to be lost finally in the incandescence of a personal universe...This is what I have learnt from my contact with the earth - the diaphany of the divine at the heart of a glowing universe, the divine radiating from the depth of matter a-flame”. (The Divine Milieu)
Hildegard of Bingen, the astonishing 12th c. abbess and genius, wrote: “From my infancy until now, in the 70thyear of my age, my soul has always beheld this Light, and in it my soul soars to the summit of the firmament and into a different air....The brightness which I see is not limited by space and is more brilliant than the radiance around the sun .... I cannot measure its height, length, breadth. Its name, which has been given me, is “Shade of the Living Light”....Within that brightness I sometimes see another light, for which the name “Lux Vivens” (Living Light) has been given me. When and how I see this, I cannot tell; but sometimes when I see it, all sadness and pain is lifted from me, and I seem a simple girl again, and an old woman no more!”
The Powers of the Universe: Part Nine
Yesterday morning, I took a mug of coffee outside to sit in a summer-warm breeze by the river. I knew that my most important task that day would be to write on Inter-relatedness. At once, a dozen other tasks presented themselves, each one more appealing than writing. I washed a woven place-mat, hung it outdoors to dry, answered emails, read an old poetry journal, and finally settled on something truly urgent: picking crab–apples from a tree at the top of my lane.
I had noticed the tree the day before, its two large branches split near the trunk, their massive burden of crab-apples hovering just above the ground. I thought the tree might have been struck by lightning or else pummeled by winds in a recent storm.
I began to fill a large bin with crab-apples, so eager to be picked that they nearly leapt from their branches. I worked quickly, mindlessly, concerned only that these small apples should be “used” before they fell to the earth to rot.
After nearly an hour of moving heavy branches that hung all
askew, picking as many apples as I could reach, I decided I could do no more. I was hot, sticky, and being slowly devoured by a local chapter of mosquitoes who had found me out.
Then, I happened to look up at the tree. Something shifted in me. I was aware of a presence, a dim dark knowing, that moved my heart. Above me, the two split branches hung like almost-severed arms, and above them there was no great trunk. This was it. The tree was hopelessly broken, and would not bear again. Somehow I knew that it hadn’t been lightning or fierce winds but the sheer weight of this huge crop of apples that had broken her branches. This feast of fruit she offered as her dying gift.
Did I acknowledge that? Offer my thanks? I hope so, but it was a brief act. I was eager to get out of the sun, away from the mosquitoes, into my swimsuit.
Minutes later, I was walking through the woods to where a stairway of carefully-placed flat rocks leads down into the Bonnechere River. Embraced by the slowly moving river, my companion of seven years, I felt at first only the bliss of coolness, buoyancy. But gradually there came again the dim knowing that I had experienced beside the tree. A presence, a something, a someone, cooling me, embracing me, welcoming me into its life…
It was late afternoon when I at last opened my notes on the Powers of the Universe, garnered from Brian Swimme’s DVD series and Jean Houston’s teachings on the way these powers impact our lives.
Jean had spoken of White Buffalo Calf Woman who taught her people that all things are inter-related, so they must reverence all of life. This, Jean said, is what the power of Inter-relatedness is about: a vision of caring with a sense of the whole; we need an overarching vision that is so simple and alluring that we can see what can be, not from many different perspectives (science, art, religion, etc.) but from an all-inclusive vision. Jean sees the Power of Inter-Relatedness as an incredible invitation from the cosmos to create deep caring.
Inter-relatedness or Care has been at work in the Universe for 13.8 billion years, says Brian Swimme. Without it, the Universe would fall apart.
Parental care emerged as a value in the Universe because it made survival more possible with the mother and father fish caring for their young. As reptiles evolved, Swimme speculates that either they discovered caring, or perhaps it evolved along with them. Reptiles watch over their young and do not eat them (as do some fish). The amazing power of care deepens with the arrival of mammals, whose care continues sometimes for a lifetime. This, says Swimme, is the Universe showing what it values, enabling mammals to spread out.
In some species of mammals, the female selects among her suitors the male who offers the best chance of having her offspring survive. The female is behaving in a way that will affect the next generation. Through her, the Universe is working to extend care. An intensive study of baboons led researchers to find that when a female chooses a sexual partner one of the qualities she seeks is tenderness. Thus life seeks to deepen and extend care.
In a human person in whom the power of inter-relatedness is strongly present, we see a psyche attuned to relatedness, with the capacity to identify another’s worth, and to be sensitive to the needs of others. Care can result in true devotion, service, nurturance. However, Swimme cautions that this power needs to be balanced with the Power of Centration, lest one become so absorbed in the needs and values of others that there is a loss of the self.
Care has to be evoked. A mother sea-lion establishes relationship with her pup by licking, nuzzling, thus evoking her own motherhood. It is the same for us humans, says Swimme. We need to find ways to activate these deep cosmological powers so that we can interact with the universe. This requires imagination. The power of care is evoked out of the plasma of the early universe. How do we enter into that process of evoking care? Just becoming aware is to participate.
How we position ourselves within our relationships with all of life is crucial, and is an act of imagination. To position ourselves in order to USE life leads to the extinction of countless species. Even 100 million years of parental care was not enough to save many species of fish from extinction. The shaping of our imagination by economic, educational and manufacturing systems that see use as the primary mode or orientation towards life on the planet, also views children in schools as “products” to be shaped, (and a tree’s bounty of crab-apples as something to be “used”.)
What would be another way?
Swimme notes the amazing capacity of humans to care, a power that is coded in our DNA, where life has extended its care through us. But we also have through the power of language and symbol, through our conscious self-awareness, the capacity for empathy. We can learn to experience care for another species, even as we can imaginatively occupy another place, and extend our care to other cultures. With deepening compassion we move outside of our own boxed –in perspective.
Seeing that cosmological care is built in from the very beginning of the universe, some people today speak of the Great Mother or Mother Earth. This, says Swimme, is the cosmological power of care employing a powerful image or symbol to reflect upon itself through the human.
Paraphrasing Meister Eckhart, Swimme says that “the eye we are using to regard care in the universe is the same eye that care is using to regard itself”. He asks: is the role of the human to provide the vessel for a comprehensive care to come forth in the universe? The space in which this will take place is within the human.
On a day when I tried to avoid writing of Inter-Relatedness, I was given the gift of experiencing this power directly in the self-giving bounty of a crab-apple tree, in the welcoming, cooling embrace of a gently-flowing river. Great Mother felt very close, inviting me, in Jean Houston’s words, into “a vision of caring with a sense of the whole”.
Powers of the Universe Part Eight:
Transformation is among the most stunning of the powers of the universe. Unlike the power of transmutation which creates small changes over time, transformation is sudden, dramatic.
Earlier this summer, at our community’s summer place, Mary noticed a nymph crawl out of the lake to attach itself to a plant. Mary, who has spent some twenty summers tending our lake, observing the life it contains, clearing deadwood, decay and weeds from its floor, knew what was about to happen. She carefully carried the plant with the nymph still attached up to the lodge. Then she invited everyone to come and watch the miracle. Within an hour the adult nymph had shed its tight skin, expanded its new body. Before our wondering eyes, this pale, fragile, newly-emerged creature, its transparent wings delicate, took flight as a dragonfly. Transformation.
In his DVD series “Powers of the Universe”, Brian Swimme notes that while transmutation is the power of change at the individual level, transformation is change that is worked into the whole universe by the individual.
Scientists believe that the universe was aiming towards life from the beginning, yet the universe had to transform itself over and over through almost 10 billion years to get to LIFE. Early events in the universe are present in the early structures to which they gave birth. Within stars, the birth of the universe is re-evoked, returning to its earlier stages.
Galaxies come to birth holding different eras in their structures. Galaxies enable planets which enable life.
These are transformative events leading to a time when more of the universe is present in one place.
Life is a way of holding a memory of an event. For example, in photosynthesis cells learn how to interact with the sun. That learning process is remembered in the genes so it can be folded back out. Now that whole event of photosynthesis is here. It’s not a “one-off”. More of the universe is folded into it. The memory is passed on by cells. With the invention of sexuality, two beings fuse, the memories they carry shuffled together in new ways. The ancestral tree remembers, folds itself into a new being, shuffling events, shuffling genes so new combinations can arise.
The energy that permeates the solar system has been there for all time. Elements of the earth came from the stars. Life holds together all these ancient events.
A colossal interweaving enables this moment to exist. We can’t say the universe is simply here “by luck”. Swimme says that the universe is aiming to participate in the creation of community, attempting to become involved in a four-dimensional way in every place to activate community. We have to orient ourselves to the reality that the universe is aiming towards this.
We are invited into a huge responsibility as part of this unfolding. An individual’s experience can become the source for the recoding of the planet. All of cultural DNA can be recoded. The way in which we organize ourselves is recoding the genetics of other species.
With the appearance of the human we have the possibility of the transformation of the planet.
The mystics and poets intuited this before the scientists sought proof. The poet Rainer Maria Rilke wrote a century age that, “We are the transformers of Earth. Our whole being, and the flights and falls of our love,enable us to undertake this task.”
Swimme asks what laws we are proud of: ending slavery? votes for women? laws to protect animals?
Where else do we see possibilities for transformation?
And what of the seismic shifts happening in our purchase of food? What of our growing need to know where our food comes from? Our choices based on local sourcing? farmers’ markets sprouting everywhere? What of clothing purchases now that we know more of the sweat shops in Bangladesh and China?
From small transmutations in our personal lives, we can consciously seek the larger changes that will alter the planet, testing them for their coherence within the powers of the universe, asking whether these changes will contribute to the enhancement of life, becoming transformative. We are part of the unfolding of the four dimensions of the universe. The universe is present now, enfolded in the work we do.
One of the clearest descriptions of the experience of transformation at the personal level comes to us from the 20th century mystic, Caryll Houselander. After a long illness, a bout of scrupulosity, Caryll had an experience of God that removed her obsessive fears and gave her a profound peace. She writes: “It was in the evening, I think. The room was dark, and the flames of firelight dancing on the wall seemed almost to cause me pain when I opened my eyes....I no longer attempted to translate my torment as particular sins; I had realized in a dim, intuitive way that it was not something I had done that required forgiveness, but everything I was that required to be miraculously transformed.”
Jean Houston advises that when we are moving into an experience of transformation we should go looking for guidance from the mystics, writers and poets who have experienced this. Welcome beauty into our lives. Know that we have within us a visionary process which is a source for the recoding of the planet. All the codings for the life of the unborn future are available in us. We arethe recoding, the reset button.
Powers of the Universe: Part Seven:
Returning last week from a few days’ holiday, I was appalled to see my front porch liberally splashed with bird droppings. Then I looked up….. and my heart did a small dance of joy! Above the porch light sat a nest with several tiny feathered heads peering over the edge… the phoebes had returned! Last year, the nest sat empty and I grieved the loss. Now in a brief moment of rejoicing, I was thinking like a planet, rather than a dismayed human. I glimpsed something of the transmutations in our perceptions, our behaviours, we humans are called on to make in this time of immense change.
In his DVD series, “The Powers of the Universe”, Brian Swimme recalls Teilhard’s saying that we are the universe reflecting on itself. Swimme invites us to see ourselves as the Power of Transmutation reflecting on itself in conscious self–awareness. He asks, “How can this lead to a more vibrant earth community?”
Natural selection, Transmutation, is the way form changes through time… in the universe, the birth of radiant energy in atoms changes everything; clouds change into galaxies; primal stars transmute into stellar systems with planets; the earth herself changes from molten rock into a living planet.
The universe forces itself out of one era into another. If you are a particle you have nowhere to go but into an atom…
So, what do we do when we discover ourselves in the midst of the end of one era, moving into another? How do we participate in this Transmutation?
Swimme says we need to look at the way life moves from one form to another. The earth uses a form of restraint, of judgement. At the moment when the earth begins to cool from its molten state to form a crust, there is a constraint into the form of continents. When two continents collide, there is further restraint on formerly free activity, enabling restriction and opposition that create mountain ranges. To insist that things remain the same is to insist on the end of the planet’s growth.
Another form of resistance happens when the desires of different beings are in opposition. At the heart of transmutation is the question of how to deal with obstacles and opposites. The grasshopper is constrained by the bird who eats it; the bird has to follow the grasshopper. But to remove the constraints is to upset the beauty of form. A slower grasshopper leads to a less fleet bird; a slower bird means that the grasshopper decreases its speed. The destiny of the bird is tied to the grasshopper. Creativity is spread out over the whole community. The system has constraints, demands, judgements. The natural selection dynamic is based on judgement that leads to excellence of form and beauty. The beak of the bird developed so it might retrieve bugs from a tree. The relationship between the bird and the tree is a form of intimacy. Every bioregion has this spectacular beauty, with the integrity of the whole maintained by this power of judgement, restraint, struggle.
Until humans arise, taking the whole system into collapse through our ability to get around the constraints, the judgements, using all the powers to our own advantage. No longer does natural selection take care of the whole.
Our challenge is to become the Power of Transmutation in conscious self-awareness. We are called upon to bring restraint to human activity so that the natural selection dynamics can proceed. The powers of the universe need the human to proceed through this change. Though our laws, customs and disciplines impose restraint on human activity, they have until now taken for granted that the human is the focus. Now we need to ask for laws that enable the whole community of life to flourish. We need to say clearly, “Some things are going to lead to ruin”. We need a law to protect species for themselves.
Swimme suggests that the human person in whom the Power of Transmutation surfaces strongly has a mind that is highly critical, judgemental. The tone of this person will be highly pessimistic with a sensitivity to the dynamic of the whole, with a drive for survival as well as deep respect for law, tradition, custom. The mind of a person in whom the Power of Transmutation is strong is not dogmatic, but has the ability to change in order to make it through the challenges before us. The one in whom the Power of Transmutation is strong is highly–disciplined, leading a structured life, the opposite of the chaotic personality in whom Emergence is the stronger power. However, should the Power of Transmutation become frozen in a person, there is danger that the negative aspects of pessimism, cynicism and guilt might take over.
The feeling mode of the person experiencing the Power of Transmutation is that one does not fit in. There is a sense of being cut off, set aside, rejected, even wounded. Yet those who feel most cut off are the ones how feel most deeply that the universe has made a judgement that this era is over. This is an invitation from the universe to look at what life does, to see in the opposition, the wound, one’s destiny. Swimme says: You are feeling the universe is rejecting part of you. Embrace the rejection, embrace that which is attempting to eliminate those aspects of yourself that are maladaptive, the elements that are part of the era that is over: a society based on consumerism, based on destroying opposition.
The planet is withering because humans have accepted a context that is much too small. We can no longer decide only what is best for a corporation or a culture but we must move to a larger context, to the planetary level. Our decisions will affect thousands of future generations. We are the universe as a whole reflecting on itself in this particular place.
Who are the models to inspire us? We co-evolve with all other beings. The great moments of beauty in the universe become our guides, and our criteria by which to judge. We look to the future, to beings who will learn to live in harmony to enable the whole to flourish. Thus we learn to live in the context of the whole universe: past, present and future, with the energies of the planet.
Sometimes we catch a glimpse of that future: when a windstorm knocked out electricity in our community’s holiday place last weekend, a few of us decided to stay on. Small changes, transmutations… an evening swim rather than a morning shower…. food cooked on a barbecue… water for washing dishes heated on the barbecue…. perishables such as milk and yogurt packed in an ice chest…. wading into the lake in tall boots to scoop up buckets of water to keep the toilets working...
On the second night, sitting in darkness illumined by golden candles, we watched the rose madder sunset splash across the sky, and soon after Venus become clearly visible. For a little while she was a silvery presence but as the earth rolled away to the east, Venus slowly sank below the horizon…
This beauty we would have missed had there been electric light. I remembered a snatch of poetry: “After my house burned down, I had a better view of the moon.”
The Powers of the Universe: Part Six
As we continue our exploration of the Powers of the Universe, as described by Brian Swimme in his DVD series of that name, we come to the power of synergy. This power is magnificently illustrated in the Emperor Penguins of Antarctica. They form a tight cluster with the outer circle exposed to the frigid cruelty of the weather while the inner circle is held in warmth. Then in a shifting soundless dance, they change places. This behaviour is their path to survival.
The power of synergy has brought forward some of the most wondrous and crucial developments in the 13.8 billion year history of the universe. Plants that need nitrogen to survive, but are unable to draw it in, form a synergistic relationship with nodules whose bacteria can draw in nitrogen. Flowers, plants and trees that need to be pollinated thrive through their synergistic relationship with bees.
Swimme describes some great moments in synergy throughout the life of our planet: (a) single cells learn to trade aspects of genetic information, enabling the spread of ideas across the earth; (b) photosynthesis occurs when, in a synergistic relationship between life and the sun, cells learn to interact with sunlight to draw in energy; (c) life learns to get hydrogen from water, releasing oxygen, but as oxygen is destructive to life, those forms of life that learn to draw in oxygen, creating through synergy new structures, survive, while the forms of life that do not learn how to do this, sink down into the swamp ; (d) 1.5 billion years ago, organisms learn how to mate: the discovery of sexuality enables an explosion of possibilities and new life forms as sexualized animals cover the planet.
Synergistic relationships enable survival and endurance. In order for life to endure two great challenges need to be met: find energy and create offspring. Life rewards creativity in these two crucial areas with survival. Synergy flowers as life finds creative response to this dual challenge. The quest, according to Swimme, is not to eliminate the challenge but to respond to it.
Seeking a synergistic response to life’s challenges leads to increasing complexity in the human. Noting that the challenge of finding energy relates to finding food, Swimme cites an aboriginal tribe who depend upon rabbit for survival. Regularly a group of fifty hunters come together to catch an abundance of rabbits for a steady food supply. Their social cohesion results from this need to work together to catch their food. In Inuit societies, the whole community comes together to capture a whale, something impossible for a lone hunter to achieve.
When humans learn to interact with seeds and plants, the nomadic way of life of the hunter/ gatherer societies is altered. A settled way of life emerges with the development of agriculture, pushing to the margins those who remain with the old ways, continuing to hunt and gather. The settled way of life intensifies through classical civilization and into industrial society where productivity increases, again with a crowding out of the earlier forms.
In our time, we see contemporary industrial society around the planet crowding out earlier forms of life, with the evaporation of indigenous groups everywhere. The factories and sweat shops of India and China lure workers into cities, where in order to earn small wages, they sometimes have to live separated from their families in barrack-like conditions.
Understanding the process that has led to this moment in the earth’s history frees us to question whether this intensity of production is what we really want. Does the revelation of the appalling, life-threatening conditions in factories such as those in Bangladesh lead us to question our societal thirst for more and cheaper goods? Is this really an enhancement of life on our planet?
Do we see the phenomenal rise in community gardens and farmers’ markets as a sign of hope that we are shifting away from a production/transportation model that brings food to our table from across the planet? A recent CBC story told of an organic garden being created atop a high-rise building in downtown Montreal, a prototype for a whole new way of imagining how to grow the food we need near where we live.
The challenge for our time, as Swimme sees it, is for synergy to operate through conscious self-awareness. The movement now needs to be from an industrial to a planetary civilization, requiring the birth of the planetary human. Once we accept our true identity as earth community, sharing genes with oak trees and oysters, this becomes much easier. If we see our humanness from the perspective of biology rather than from religion or politics or culture, we can begin to imagine a planetary society.
If we open ourselves to what other species can teach us, our learnings are greatly enhanced. What might fish be able to teach us about keeping the oceans healthy?
Finally, war, once a form of social cohesion, has to be replaced. We take on instead the challenge of a synergistic relationship with others in order to deal with a wilting planet and a failing ecosystem.
The death throes of Western civilization can be experienced as birth pangs as a new era of humanity is about to emerge. To move towards an abundance of life for all children, for all planetary life, demands greater synergy, deeper power, new technology and moral wisdom to guide us forward, Swimme believes. As with other new developments, the older nationalistic forms of life will not disappear but will hang around as they gradually make their way to the bottom of the swamp.
This movement towards newness and rebirth is beginning. When we align our personal energies with it by creating mutually enhancing relationships, we are aligning our human energies with the cosmological power called synergy.
Powers of the Universe: Part Five Cataclysm
Our reflections continue on the Powers of the Universe as they are elucidated by Brian Swimme in his DVD series.
Cataclysm is as essential to reality as emergence. The destructions, degradations and disasters of the universe are part of the story of its life, a movement from a complex to a simple state that allows for the emergence of newness.
Imagine a star twenty times the size of our sun. The force of gravity would reduce it to a cinder were it not for the opposing energy sent forth from its heart, created by the fusing of hydrogen nuclei into helium nuclei. This activity allows it to maintain, in Swimme’s words, “a seething equilibrium” for some ten million years. But when the hydrogen has all been transformed into helium, that fusion process ends. Gravity causes the star to collapse into a smaller space until its core heats up to the temperature required to fuse helium into carbon. The cycle repeats as carbon fuses into oxygen, then oxygen into silicon and on and on until only iron remains. Iron releases no energy when it fuses; nothing is left to push out from the star’s centre to oppose the force of gravity. The star can only implode upon itself and in seconds a multi-million year process is over; a massive star becomes a mere speck.
But the energy of the implosion has crushed the constituent electrons and protons together to form neutrons, releasing more elementary particles called neutrinos. This reverses the imploding movement to blast the star apart in a firework display more brilliant than a galaxy of shining stars. As it expands a nucleosynthesis takes place, creating the nuclei of all the elements of the universe. In this supernova explosion are birthed the elements that will form our planet and our bodies. (for a fuller explication of this process, see Chapter 3: “The Emanating Brilliance of Stars” in Journey of the Universe , co-authored by Brian Swimme and Mary Evelyn Tucker, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2011)
The life story of a star is an astounding example of cataclysm giving birth to new life. But the power of cataclysm is seen in many aspects of life in the universe. Two hundred and fifty million years ago (when our earth was already ancient of days at age four billion and a bit…) a cataclysm occurred that eliminated 96% of marine species and 70% of land species. Swimme says that huge die-offs occur roughly every one hundred million years, and we are right in the middle of one now. Whatever our capacities for conscious denial, Swimme believes, our hearts and our bodies feel this awareness in a rising sense of frustration, of regret, of failure.
I would add to that a profound sense of grief. I recall watching a power-point that singer/songwriter Carolyn McDade prepared to illustrate the species in my own bio-region under threat of extinction. As I watched the unique, startling beauty of each form of life, the soulful eyes of owls, reptiles, birds, otters, small mammals gazing back at me from the screen, I was shaken by a grief so sudden and wrenching that I wept. All the while, Carolyn’s voice sang a prayer of pleading: “ letthem continue on….”
Later that summer I saw in the river near my home an otter with a mate and young, and felt a deep joy…
Concurrent with this extinction of species is the desertification of land, the shrinking rain forests, the dying rivers and lakes. As though engaged in a death dance between nature and man-made structures, we see the waning into near-extinction of many of the religious, political, economic, education, health and societal systems in which we had once placed our trust.
Is there a graced way to live into a period of cataclysm? Swimme suggests that we might identify with the power thatis destroying us by consciously surrendering aspects of ourselves, our society, our way of being in the world, that no longer serve us, thus enabling the universe to pulverize those aspects...We can try to see the destruction of consumer culture as part of the earth’s work of cataclysm, seeking to free us, to free our lives.
When cataclysm strikes an area of the planet through flood or fire, earthquake, tornado or tsunami, haven’t we heard voices raised that dared to bless the disaster for revealing what is really worth valuing in life?
The twentieth century mystic Etty Hillesum, shortly before her death in Auswitch, wrote words that may be a light for us in this time: I shall try to help you, God, to stop my strength ebbing away, though I cannot vouch for it in advance. But one thing is becoming increasingly clear to me: that you cannot help us, that we must help you to help ourselves. And that is all we can manage these days, also all that really matters: that we safeguard that little piece of you, God, in ourselves. And in others as well. Alas, there doesn’t seem to be much you yourself can do about our circumstances, about our lives. Neither do I hold you responsible. You cannot help us but we must help you and defend your dwelling place inside us to the end.
This is our moment, Brian Swimme believes: our star exploding, ready to create emeralds and giraffes, ready to release us into a new earth community.
For the next level of growth, of deepening, something has to wake us up, shake us up. It may take a tornado to blow us all the way to Oz where the greatest gifts await us. Jean Houston says that the call of this time of Cataclysm is to “radical reinvention” in order to speciate, to become a deepening spirit of the earth for her new emergence. Never before in history have so many devoted themselves to develop fully, to regard problems as opportunities in work clothes. Encouraging us that we have just the right gifts on just the right planet to bring this new earth community to life, Jean adds, “You are blessed to be alive at this time.”
The Powers of the Universe: Homeostasis
One of the major shifts in consciousness required for our time is that we belong to the evolutionary co-creative process, and it is in discovering our mutual interdependence within the cosmos, and particularly with planet Earth, that we will begin to reclaim our spiritual identity.
Diarmuid O’ Murchu Reclaiming Spirituality N Yk Crossroads 1998 p. 41
Homeostasis is the power by which the universe maintains what it values. It is a delicate dance of holding onto what is most important through all the swirls and shifts of change. In his DVD series “Powers of the Universe”, Brian Swimme offers some stunning examples of the earth’s power of homeostasis: the dynamics that maintain the form and function of a mammal’s body; the human bloodstreams where the ph balance is the same as in the bloodstreams of most animals and fish; the temperature of the human body. The earth herself remains in state where life can flourish, even as the sun gets hotter; the earth has maintained its temperature over the four billion years, just as a mammal’s body does. The earth cycles through times of cooling when the ice caps swell to reflect more of the sun’s heataway; then it grows warmer so that the ice caps shrink. This cycle repeats every 100,000 years.
The Milky Way Galaxy cycles through its explosions of supernovas. In one million year cycle where there are 8000 supernovas (a smaller number) the cloud becomes denser than usual, so the capacity to create stars is greater. In the next million year cycle, 12000 supernovas explode. Homeostasis.
Then we humans enter the realm of life with our quality of conscious self-awareness.
When we understand what is valued, essential for life on this planet, our perspective shifts away from focus on the part to the whole. The enormous ego-centricity of our lives in a nation like Canada or the United States shifts to embrace the need to maintain human life in other parts of the planet, then to look at what animal life/ tree life/ river life/ocean life /earth life requires for its continuance.
Though we understand ourselves to be the gathered-in-ness of 13.8 billion years of life in the universe (the power of centration), though we honour the search for love and fulness of life that draws us forward (the power of allurement) and though we rejoice in the restless creativity that is our personal invitation from the universe to be involved inemergence, the power of homeostasis calls us to a care and vigilance, a keen awareness of the fragility of our existence, and a sensitivity to vulnerable areas.
Asking the question why homeostasis is falling apart in major life systems, (the desertification of huge amounts of land, the poisoning of rivers and lakes, the loss of the rain forests, the very lungs of our planet…) Brian Swimme says it is because we humans are trying to use the power of homeostasis to maintain a subgroup of the whole rather than the whole body. We think our fundamental responsibility is to a sub-unit rather than to the whole body. The great search now for fossil fuel in tar sands or through fracking, poisoning the water to release gas, is a desperate effort to maintain a standard of life enjoyed by a favoured few.
Swimme calls it an intellectual illusion that humanity is separate from the earth community. There is no human community without the whole. The earth community is a form of guidance for us, crying out to us that it is not inert material, not just stuff! It takes a major shift for us humans to see that we come out of the earth community, we derive from it.The matrix itself is primary.
Such an understanding would alter the way we organize life on the planet, calling us to create laws and establish policing to protect bio-regions as well as humans, to protect the right to existence of all life on the planet. If we know that each being has a right to be we understand the need to restrict human activity so that the whole can flourish.
On a communal and on a personal level, the power of homeostasis will help us to maintain the achievements of our lives, to raise up energy and increase commitment to our work, to our relationships. We can tell the story of what we’re about, tell the story of our love relationships and maintain a zest for life! Millions of years, Swimme says, are involved in a single moment of zest.
Whenever and wherever we tell the story of our emergence out of the life of the planet, honouring all the forms of life that share our right to be here, we are the power of homeostasis, enabling life to blossom.
But homeostasis, as with the other powers of the universe, has its down side. Maintaining and sustaining what we value in life, what keeps us sane, is important, but, as Jean Houston warns, holding onto anything for too long leads to stagnation, and “the universe gets bored with you”. The opening scenes of the film, “the Wizard of Oz” show homeostasis as the absence of vitality. Nothing is happening in a place blown dry, grey-brown, empty. No one has time for the young Dorothy who is in a state of immense longing. The only being who still has any zest for life is the little dog Toto.
When homeostasis goes on for too long, when life no longer holds zest, the next power of the universe must come into play: Cataclysm ….
Powers of the Universe Part Three
Emergence and the Spirituality of the Sacred Feminine
Emergence: the universe flares forth out of darkness, creating, over billions of years, through trial and error and trying again, astounding newness: carbon for life in the middle of a star…. the birth of planets, our earth holding what is required for life to emerge…. the creation of water from hydrogen and oxygen….the emergence of a cell with a nucleus.
Each of these seemingly impossible happenings did happen, offering us humans the hope that the impossible tasks confronting us in our time can be creatively addressed, showing us, as Brian Swimme expressed it, a domain of the possible beyond imagination. Our human endeavour has been powered by non-renewable energy resources. Our task now is to reinvent the major forms of human presence on the planet in agriculture, architecture, education, economics…. We need to align ourselves with the powers of the universe, consciously assisting, amplifying, accelerating the process of creative endeavour.
In her teaching on the powers of the universe, Jean Houston shows us how we can work with the universe to assist in the process of bringing into emergence the newness waiting within us. We set up a schedule. We show up at the page, or in the listening or prayer place, regularly to signal our intent to be open. We create internal structures that are ready to receive what wants to emerge in us. Then we drop in an idea that puts us in touch with essence, creates in us a cosmic womb so the universal power can work in us. Like Hildegard of Bingen, we become a flowering for the possible, attracting the people and resources that we need.
Among the aspects of human life that require creative imagination for a new birth, I would like to focus on religion/spirituality/our way of relating with the Sacred.
Twenty five years ago the eco-theologian Thomas Berry wrote that:
…the existing religious traditions are too distant from our new sense of the universe to be adequate to the task that is before us. We need a new type of religious orientation….a new revelatory experience that can be understood as soon as we recognise that the evolutionary process is from the beginning a spiritual as well as a physical process. (Dream of the EarthSierra Club, San Francisco, 1988)
What new revelatory experience, what new type of religious orientation is emerging today?
As I am neither a theologian nor a sociologist, I invite you to experience with me a fragment, a fractal, of the newness that is emerging among women with roots in Christianity, and with branches that now extend to embrace a relationship of partnership with a sacred feminine presence.
Take a chair at the table in a room in a small Catholic college in western Canada. As part of a focus group of thirteen women, drawn from some one hundred interviewees, you’ve been asked to reflect upon the way you blend your Christian faith with a relationship to the feminine holy. For several hours of concentrated conversation on this topic, facilitated by the research co-ordinator, you listen to your new companions.
What do you see? Hear? Experience?
On this sunny June morning, one of the women leads an opening prayer in the four directions, calling on the presence of the Sacred Feminine to guide us in wisdom, in newness, nurtured by the gifts symbolized by earth, air, water and fire.
As each woman speaks, you notice the different pathways that have brought each woman here, that have awakened awareness in her of a Holy Presence that is feminine. For some it is the writings of the feminist theologians, uncovering the deep but largely neglected tradition of Sophia /Wisdom, the feminine principle of God. For others it is through earth–based spiritualities such as indigenous beliefs and practices, or involvement in ritual, or Wiccan studies. For the several Catholics present, Mary has been the pathway. As one woman recalls, “I was taught as a child that God was too busy to hear my prayers so I should pray to Mary instead.” Listen as other women tell of travels to places where the Sacred was known and honoured as woman in ancient times, especially sites in France and elsewhere in Europe sacred to the Black Madonna.
But mostly you are struck by the way that for each one, imaging the Holy as feminine has given a voice, a new power, a sense of her own value, that were lacking to her in the time when God was imaged as male. Imaging God as woman gives an honouring to women’s bodies, especially needed in a culture where the standard for feminine beauty (young, slim, nubile) is set by men. You hear women share without bitterness, but with a sense of having come to a place of grace, childhood and adult experiences of feeling devalued in Church – related settings because of being female. You smile with recognition as one woman recalls that when her teacher said, “God is in everyone,” she had asked, “Is God in me?” and was assured that was so. “Then is God a woman?” she asked. Her teacher, a nun, responded, “There are some mysteries we are not meant to understand.”
Listen now to the responses when the facilitator asks, “How do you express your relationship with the Feminine Divine? Would you call it worship?” No one feels that word fits. “She is a mother,” says one. “At first she was mother, but now is more of a friend” says another. “A partner, inviting me to co-create with her,” says one woman. “Devotion is the word I choose, because it holds a sense of love,” and to this many agree with nods and smiles.
What stirs in you as you listen? Do you begin to sense that there is more to this emerging relationship to the sacred feminine than our need for her, our longing for her? Is this emergence initiated perhaps by the Holy One herself who comes to us in our time of great need?
Look around the table at your companions: these are power houses. The submissive woman, so beloved of patriarchal religions, has no place in a life devoted to the Goddess. There is a rage for justice, for the transformation of life on the planet. One woman here has taken on the task of building and maintaining natural hives for bees; one is a film-maker who wants to tell stories of women that will change the way we see ourselves in the images of most films and television; one is a Baptist minister who writes of the way Jesus is himself an embodiment of the Sophia-Wisdom principle; one is a theologian who identifies the Spirit as the life force found everywhere in each land and culture and tradition, linking all of life; one fiercely joins the struggle to defeat those who would modify and monopolize the seeds of the earth, or put poison in ground water to release its gas…
As you look at these devotees of the sacred feminine at this table, you see that they are living the new revelatory experience that Berry wrote about. They are themselves the beautiful reflection of the Sophia, the Sacred Feminine, the Goddess of many names, emerging in the lives of the women and men of today who are opening themselves to her. They are, we are, the ones ready with her creative power at work in us to take on the great tasks that our times require.
Gloria Steinem has written: God may be in the details, but the goddess is in the questions. Once we begin to ask them, there is no turning back.
The Powers of the Universe: Part Two
Last week, we began a series of reflections on the process through which the universe unfolds into radiance. It is our process as well, our story, and our most urgent call in this time. For as Jean Houston reminds us: All the powers of the universe are seamlessly one, trying to bring forth radiance. These powers can be understood mystically as within ourselves waiting to assist us to bring forth a world that works for everyone.
Brian Swimme, in his DVD series Powers of the Universe, describes ten interwoven powers: Centration, Allurement, Emergence, Homeostasis, Cataclysm, Synergy, Transmutation, Transformation, Interrelatedness and Radiance.
Centration, as we saw last week, is the coming together in one life of the entire 13.8 billion year process of evolutionary development.
What is the power of Allurement? How is it at work in the universe? in us?
Allurement is what holds everything together. Allurement is at the heart of the universe. It is the power that holds the earth in thrall to the sun, the moon to the earth, the tides to the moon, our very blood to the surges of the sea.The planets are lured by the sun to orbit ceaselessly around it, while our galaxy spins, in harmony with other galaxies, in one great dance of desire and longing.
The universe is bound together in communion, each thing with all the rest. The gravitational bond unites all the galaxies; the electromagnetic interaction binds all the molecules; the genetic information connects all the generations of the ancestral tree of life. (Brian Swimme)
4.5 million years ago, the earth and the sun discovered one another, coming forth in a powerful field of allurement and attraction. Swimme notes that the action of chlorophyll, the green pigment found in most plants, responsible for absorbing light to provide the energy needed for photosynthesis, only works on our planet. It is an inter-creation with our sun, the earth being shaped by that which it loves. Atoms respond to allurement, becoming stars, becoming part of a gravitational field, becoming themselves a source of allurement even though, Swimme adds, “they have no idea why they are responding.” After they were birthed, the Magellanic Clouds, nearest neighbour to our Milky Way Galaxy, stopped making stars for eight billion years. Four billion years ago, this luminous mass was drawn into an encounter with the Milky Way that ignited its star-making capacities…it’s been making stars ever since!
On our planet, sexuality began some 300 million years ago and allurement has been developing ever since in life forms. Life wants to deepen the journey that begins with allurement, Swimme says. We can think of ourselves as the place where the universe houses its power of allurement, wanting it to burst into conscious self-awareness. The power of allurement is at work within us.
Swimme suggests that if we are attracted, we have already been acted upon; and we are molded by what we love. As with the earth and the sun, through the work of adoration we allow the Beloved to begin to shape who we are. We need to be aware of the tenderness of the human, remembering that what we’re attracted to is also wounded; it is true of bio-regions as well as of communities and individuals that membranes guard our sensitivities. The intensity of attraction, the power of allurement, can, over time, dissolve these protective membranes, allowing for mutual enhancement and mutual healing.
Our capacity for self-reflection enhances our desire to merge, to be a presence of joy and pleasure, to evoke a depth of feeling and well-being in the other. This desire is so deep that we learn to feel what the beloved is feeling; we desire to be a cause of joy.
And for us humans these powers of love go beyond the partnership of human lovers, expanding into a partnership with the Divine, allowing us to become a presence of love wherever we are: with persons, with other life forms, with the planet herself, through our awareness of the interconnectedness of all of life.
In the process of loving, the Mystics become our friends, our teachers, our guides. They lived in the power of allurement through their love relationship with the Sacred Presence at the heart of the Universe.
Writing in the thirteenth century, Mechtild of Magdeburg exults in a passionate love with and for the Holy One: I cannot dance, O lord, unless Thou lead me. If Thou wilt that I leap joyfully, then must Thou Thyself first dance and sing! Then will I leap for love, from love to knowledge, from knowledge to fruition, from fruition to beyond all human sense. There will I remain and circle evermore.
Hafiz, the Sufi mystic poet of fourteenth century Persia, teaches us: Know the true nature of your Beloved. In His loving eyes, your every thought, Word and movement is always, Always beautiful.
As the mystics did, we draw unto ourselves, and are lured towards, the love that holds the universe together. We allure all we require to grow in that love, within the calling, the shape of destiny that is uniquely ours. And we ourselves can be principles of allurement. Again, Hafiz says it well: There is only one reason we have followed God into this world: To encourage laughter, freedom, dance and love.
By allowing allurement to unfurl in our consciousness, Swimme says we can develop: *passionate absorption in the world of others with a capacity to enter deeply into its reality
* a wide spectrum of feelings and moods because of the ability to absorb the needs and feelings of persons and places
*an amazing capacity to become completely overwhelmed in situations that seem trivial, such as sitting by a pond
* a sensitivity to beauty in all its forms.
The challenge for someone deeply drawn by allurement is to maintain a sense of identity. (Am I a cloud or a raven?) Allurement is balanced by the opposite pull of centration.
Yet if we allow ourselves to be drawn by beauty, releasing ourselves into the field of our allurements, we’ll create a mutually-enhancing lure to beauty. And in doing so, we will discover something that Swimme wrote many years ago in his book The Universe is a Green Dragon :Your allurements draw you into the activity of evoking the life about you.
Swimme tells how he was lured by the wonder of the stars to study physics. One day a student of his changed his major from music to physics. This is how the universe works, Swimme believes. We are captivated by the beauty of the universe. We pursue this beauty. Others are captivated through us.
Jean Houston advises us to have leaky margins, to be able to fall in love with everything. We live then with delight in the other, experiencing the energy and generativity that come with loving.
The Powers of the Universe: Part One: Centration
“I think there’s something you should know,” Linus says, as he and Lucy sit side by side in a large armchair. “The world does not revolve around you.”
For one delicious frame, Lucy sits silent, utterly dumfounded. Then she turns to her brother and says, “You’re kidding”.
This Charles Schulz cartoon, with a bit of language-shifting and some needed tweaking, introduces “centration”, the first of the Powers of the Universe, presented by Brian Swimme in his DVD series. CENTRATION, Swimme teaches, is the coming together in one life of the entire evolutionary development. What if? he asks, what if the role of the human after 13.8 billion years, is to allow the powers of the Universe to be enhanced and advanced though us? What if we understood that the Universe is centered on us, with the aim of bringing forth another form of life, one that will draw life itself forward? Our challenge, Swimme says, is to learn how to participate in this process by removing obstacles so that the power of centration can proceed. The main obstacle, he says, is that modern individual consciousness prevents our appreciation that the WHOLE is real, and has its own intentions.
How would our lives look if we opened ourselves to allow the power of centration to grow in us? The shift in consciousness, should we as a species open ourselves to this fully, would rival the shift that occurred when, in the sixteenth century Copernicus declared that the earth revolved around the sun, not the sun around the earth….In 1905, Einstein realized that life is not boxed in with a clock ticking beside it but rather that space and time in the Universe depend upon the observer, that the Universe rises up with respect to a particular orientation. Half a century later, Carl Jung would understand that each of us experiences the universe in our own way. (As I sit outdoors, composing these thoughts on an astoundingly beautiful June day, I am continually interrupted by a rough grouse, who believes this space in this time belongs to HER. She flutters at me, nips at me, tries to chase me indoors, finally succeeds. I shall name her Lucy….)
The story of the evolution of life holds the teachings we require to allow the power of centration to be enhanced through us. Life created the membrane to allow creation to withstand the onslaught of the sea. Swimme advises that in this time when our planet is threatened with destruction we too need to develop a permeable barrier whose intelligence will determine what goes through and to find a way to hold out what is leading to degradation, refusing to give entry. Then we need also to identify and amplify what we do went to pass through the membrane: those elements which will enhance our journey into ourselves.
The second thing required for the development of life is a catalyst that, like the molecule, accelerates the process. For this, Swimme suggests we find a way to contact the primordial energy of nature, to drop into the contact with the universe, knowing that the Universe is longing to center itself in a new way. Spend time in a storm, by the waves of a shore, beside a birdfeeder, Swimme suggests.
(Avoid grouse.) Find a way to channel this energy of 13.8 billion years.