Where Did You Come From?

For me, a fast answer could be “Chicago.” A better truth requires the love story of my parents —  and the love story of each of their parents, and the love story …. Stories within stories, all embedded in mystery!

Do you ever wish you had asked your grandparents more questions, or listened more carefully  to the stories of their lives? Our own stories make little sense untethered from the stories of our parents and ancestors — all the way back.

Because so many people spend time and money tracing their ancestry, at least 100 genealogy sites exist. Seekers are proud to trace ancestors back centuries, usually the farther back the better. This image (from http://gcbias.org/ 2013/11/11) traces males in red and females in blue. I googled “How many ancestors can one trace?” but the genetic complications were too overwhelming to summarize here.

Still, we know we had to have a beginning. Shakespeare, through King Lear, assures us that Nothing can come of nothing; Julie Andrews, playing Maria in The Sound of Music, reminded us of that in her beloved song, “Something Good.”

In A Short History of Nearly Everything, Bill Bryson begins his Introduction with a splendid travelogue detailing our beginnings. The following excerpt follows his section on atoms:

But the fact that you have atoms and that they assemble in such a willing manner is only part of what got you here. To be here now, alive in the twenty-first century and smart enough to know it, you also had to be the beneficiary of an extraordinary string of biological good fortune.

After some information on species, he continues:

Not only have you been lucky enough to be attached since time immemorial to a favored evolutionary line, but you have also been extremely — make that miraculously — fortunate in your personal ancestry. Consider the fact that for 3.8 billion years, a period of time older than the Earth’s mountains and rivers and oceans, every one of your forebears on both sides has been attractive enough to find a mate, healthy enough to reproduce, and sufficiently blessed by fate and circumstances to live long enough to do so. Not one of your pertinent ancestors was squashed, devoured, starved, stranded, stuck fast, untimely wounded, or otherwise deflected from its life’s quest of delivering a tiny charge of genetic material to the right partner at the right moment in order to perpetuate the only possible sequence of hereditary combinations that could result — eventually, astoundingly, and all too briefly — in you.

But wait! There’s more! How amazing it is that planet Earth hosts life at all! One or more life-giving planets besides ours might eventually be discovered, but consider how rare it/they will be in this universe of billions of galaxies, each with billions of suns!

In our lifetimes, scientists have learned how, after our universe began, stars formed,  died and exploded material that formed into new stars until one resulted in our galaxy, our solar system, our planet, us. Scientists recently detected light from the oldest space dust, galaxy A2744_YD4. (C.f. image at right.) It began its journey 13.2 billion years ago, when the universe was only 600 million years old!

Curt Stager, in Your Atomic Self: The Invisible Elements That Connect You to Everything Else in the Universe, gives us this poetic account:

To look into the night sky is to survey distant gardens in which the elements of life are ripening, and your body is a composite harvest from these cosmic fields. Throughout history, people have spoken of the earth as our mother and the sun as our father … In an atomic sense, however, it would be more accurate to think of the earth and the sun as our siblings, because they both formed from the same star debris as the elements of life within us. Earth is indeed a kind of surrogate mother to us in that our bodies are derived from it, but we exist today only because our true celestial star mothers died long ago.  

If one has a pulse, this information results in wordless awe and reverence for the profound mystery of all being and the spirit within it.

No less a scientist than Albert Einstein wrote many profound things about this. Among them:

Everyone who is seriously involved in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that a spirit is manifest in the laws of the universe—a spirit vastly superior to that of man, and one in the face of which we with our modest powers must feel humble. In this way the pursuit of science leads to a religious feeling of a special sort, which is indeed quite different from the religiosity of someone more naive.

Einstein believed the following:

The most beautiful emotion we can experience is the mystical. It is the power of all true art and science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead. To know that what is impenetrable to us really exists, manifesting itself as the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty, which our dull faculties can comprehend only in their most primitive forms—this knowledge, this feeling, is at the center of true religiousness.

One last quote, from Ilia Delio in a recent National Catholic Reporter’s Global Sisters Report:

Teilhard de Chardin … thought that we must reinvent ourselves religiously, and he set about his life’s work toward this goal. We have yet to realize, however, a new synthesis between science and religion, a type of religion that is at home in an unfinished universe.

I think co-creating that synthesis is at the heart of ecospirituality. One starts with “Where did I come from?”  and continues the love story with “What does it mean to reinvent myself religiously?” No doubt the life, death, life motif so evident throughout the universe story and at this liturgical season provides an important clue.

Earth Day in Trump Times

Readers of this site need no motivation to celebrate Earth Day on April 22, 2017 or to care for our beloved Mother Earth. This year, I think my blog about Earth Day requires suggestions for dealing with the negativity our current politic reality elicits in us and that challenges the compassion we want to maintain for all interconnected beings. How can we best deal with our reactions to Earth’s suffering life-systems and populations in today’s political climate that so seriously threatens everything we care about?

I can’t pretend to solve everyone’s upsets, but I offer insights from Cynthia Bourgeault that help me. I also can’t pretend to totally understand my treasured copy of her book, The Holy Trinity and the Law of Three. Thus I am very grateful to Cynthia for her clarifications in what follows:

Consider the Law Of Three: According to the 20th century spiritual teacher G. I. Gurdjieff (as laid out by Cynthia Bourgeault in the book listed above) the universe’s foundational evolutionary principles — otherwise known as the Law of Three — require the participation of three independent forces, or lines of action: affirming, denying, and reconciling. These are not to be read through moral lenses; they are simply energetic lines of action. You might think of the second force as a catalyst. The reconciling force can sometimes be love, but it can just as easily be whatever breaks the impasse and lets a new configuration emerge.

From these three arise the fourth: a genuinely new “something” that has never before been seen. For example, in the case of a newly sprouting plant, the seed is the affirming force. It provides the necessary “how to” in its DNA and the impetus for action. The moist ground is the equally necessary “denying” or resisting force, providing the “womb” in which the seed can quicken. Sunlight reconciles the two, resulting in something new: the sprout.

I find this theory extremely liberating. I can trace its truth throughout history and it convinces me that today’s opposing force (our current political situation), far from being the total “oppositionality” we often judge it to be in a dualistic framework of good-evil/ either-or, is actually required in this evolutionary scheme of three! Being aware that a reconciling force exists, and helping to “incarnate” (my word) this “principle of self-emptying love” (Cynthia’s words) are vitally important to prevent the story from ending with the negative. Cynthia writes: “With a spiritual practice, you gradually develop the heart as an organ of alignment with God” that results in conscious attention to the third force, to reconciliation and new life. Cynthia also uses the verb “midwife” to describe what we do as we deepen contemplative skills. (This reconciliation is not related to capitulation!)

Note the Law of Three in 1. the on-going story of creation and 2. our religious stories:

1. Historical Perspective: Our current situation can feel overwhelming, but it’s far from the first major challenge Mother Earth has faced and solved in her multi-billion year story. One very oversimplified example: More than 2.3 billion years ago multicellular forms began producing oxygen by photosynthesis. After about 200 million years, the overproduction of oxygen in the earth’s atmosphere set Earth’s original atmosphere dangerously off balance. Very bad news! But, lo!, Earth evolved aerobic organisms that consumed oxygen and thus created a positive equilibrium. All evolution on Earth followed, and this balance still keeps us alive (at least so far).

Over the billions of years of her lifetime, Earth has shown the eagerness and creativity she needs for her survival. Do you see signs now that she is creating something new? E.g., think of the millions of people gathering simultaneously in multiple countries to support better policies. This never happened, never could have happened, on Earth before our time. Because of the way evolution works, it is impossible to predict how we will respond to current challenges. But, being part of the human species, we can deepen our ability to see in wholes and tap into the Love that lives and acts in us and in all creation in order to go beyond a binary dead end.

2. Religious Traditions: Without ever knowing what science would reveal about constant change, evolution, chaos preceding order, or the Law of Three, Scripture shows over and over that 1. affirmatives, confronted with 2. denial and hatred, and 3. reconciled by love and new insights, can result in new life. Take, for example, the birth of a beautiful boy in Egypt, the decision to kill Jewish babies, but his dilemma, reconciled by love, resulting in Israel’s heroic new leader. Or, as this season reminds us, Jesus’ vision and practice of inclusive love, met with rejection and crucifixion by the powers that be, but reconciled by his consummate self-emptying love — resulted in new life.

Suggestions: I hope one or two of the ideas below will empower anyone in need to find, activate, and “midwife” a reconciling force in the midst of upsetting news from DC. Please share in “Comments” ideas that have helped you.

. Recognize and accept your reality — shock; denial; pain; guilt; anger; bargaining; depression; loneliness — and be gentle with yourself. Decide whether where you are is where you want to stay and if it contributes positively to improving what upsets  you.

. Deepen belief in our sacred, interconnected world; deepen awareness of the Love available throughout it. This changes not just our personal consciousness, but contributes positively to universal/ cosmic consciousness.

. Remember, in spite of everything, we are all interconnected. Whether or not they understand or agree, everyone — even in political leadership — is part of the sacred whole and deserves our basic respect.

. Limit consumption of negative news, alternative facts, and rumors — but stay informed of real facts.

. Savor beauty and good news. E.g., courts in New Zealand and in Northern India each granted major rivers their rights to legal personhood, reinstating them to their ancient status as beloved members of the Universe community. As persons, they may speak to protect themselves against the overwhelming industrial assaults and desecration that threaten their survival. (For insights into “personhood,” remember St. Francis and sister/ mother Earth. See Are Mountains Forever? A Lenten Reflection.) Rejoice that Pope Francis wrote Laudato Si’ that fosters values dismissed by the current U.S government.

. Eliminate time spent vilifying people with whom we disagree. Don’t get caught in the quicksand of negativity.

. Take a break. Maybe some thoughtful deep breathing. Maybe a walk. Maybe some laughter. Maybe relish something that brings you smiles. Maybe grieve as needed. We can always find something that is awesome and gratitude-inspiring.

. Join action groups. Depending on circumstances, support them financially, sign (and add your own words to) their letters and calls to legislators and meetings with them, share statements from groups with which you agree, join in marches and meetings …. Your efforts are not solitary!

. Note the planks in our own eyes. What we don’t like in others can be a clue to what we don’t notice in ourselves. E.g., Dislike how Trump stereotypes Muslims, Mexicans, etc.? Any chance we stereotype his followers?

. Listen carefully to the Spirit within yourself and all others. Challenging as it is, do this especially with those with whom we disagree. Learn people’s opposing viewpoints without trying to enlighten or change them. If people hear what they think, they might make their own changes!

. Keep in our prayers everyone and everything currently suffering from or threatened by current policies, as well as those who sponsor and approve them.  (possible Earth Day Prayer, from the Sisters of the Holy Child Jesus: Click here.)

. Own this quotes: Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.

. While celebrating Earth Day, visualize Earth’s potential new life! Such imaginings can become third forces!

Spring Equinox Celebration 2017

This year the moment of equal day and night happens on Monday, March 20th. Although climate chaos has altered weather patterns everywhere, the seasons remain consistent. Twice a year the day and night time are equal in length. Daylight increases in the Northern Hemisphere and lessens in the Southern.

ANCIENT AWARENESS

seasonsThe word equinox dates to the 14th century, but celebrations of this event can be traced to the Romans, Mayans, Egyptians, and Saxons. (For examples, see  www.ancient-origins.net/ancient-places/…equinox-around-world-001464.)

Though records of sky observations exist from about 8,000 years ago, some humans noticed the changes even before these formal breakthroughs. How awesome to imagine someone’s early “Aha!” What an awakening and cause for celebration!  One wonders if early celebrations included thoughts of rebirth and if they had religious significance.

WHAT’S REALLY HAPPENING

Our early ancestors could not have pictured what we know is happening: our sphere, rotating to create day and night, is also hurling around the sun, 90 million miles away. Earth revolves around the Sun at a speed of about 18.5 miles, or 30 km, a second. It was happening aeonseons before humans evolved to observe it.

UnknownDefinitions of the spring equinox correctly state that it is “the time when the sun crosses the plane of the Earth’s equator resulting in equal parts of light and dark.” But this incorrectly implies that the sun has moved to this position. Our awareness shifts when we realize that Earth has reached the point in its journey around the sun when its  equator is in line with the sun.  We’ve known that for centuries, yet it is still a hard concept to remember!

The image shows Earth when it reaches this mid-point, but be sure to remember that our sun is about 110 times the diameter of Earth.

FAITH-FILLED CELEBRATIONS

Many religious groups use this time to honor special events in their history that relate to newness. The theme of rebirth and resurrection are present in the Christian tradition of Easter, celebrated this year on April 16th. In the Jewish faith, Passover begins April 10th. Early Pagans in the Germanic countries celebrated planting and the new crop season. Many Persian countries, with roots in Zoroastrianism, celebrate hope and renewal with the festival of No Ruz – which means “new day.”

MEMORIALS

By all means participate in whatever celebrations are held by the religion of your choice to honor specific events in its salvation history. This is sacred time, deserving our deep prayerful participation. But also remember why the celebrations take place at this time of year.

You might also wish to honor the equinox with this brief memorial, perhaps with new insights into your religious traditions:

1. Begin by being very conscious that you are held by gravity whether you are sitting, standing, or lying down. Imagine your place in your bioregion and its size. Continue extending awareness of your “place” until you feel embedded in your hemisphere and this entire planet. Our spherical home is relentlessly rotating East. Try to sense that movement. If you can see the sun, remember that it is not moving; you, with Earth, are traveling. Integrate your special religious remembrances into this history.

2. Keeping in mind Earth’s rotation, check this image. Unknown-1It shows Earth’s size relative to our sun. We know we travel completely around the sun each year. Far from being close, Sun is about 90 million miles away, and its light takes eight minutes to reach us. Once each year, when our double trajectory is just right, we experience the spring (or autumn in the Southern Hemisphere) equinox. Recall that our sun is a star.

3. Ponder Walt Whitman’s poem, “When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer”

When I heard the learn’d astronomer;
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me;
When I was shown the charts and the diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them;
When I, sitting, heard the astronomer, where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon, unaccountable, I became tired and sick;
Till rising and gliding out, I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,

Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.

No matter what time of day it is, stars are around us. Enter into the feeling of this poem. Look out (not necessarily up!) to wonder, to marvel, to be aware of the equinox mystery and our place in the cosmos.

4. End this memorial as creatively and meaningfully as your imagination allows!