Evolving Story: Sacred Paths Converging
Patricia Siemen, OP
It is my profound privilege, as convener, and in the name of Donna Markham, OP and the General Council, to welcome you home, and officially open our “Pathways to Living the Vision” study week.
Our procession from the Weber Circle to here ~ our new chapel that honors our sister, Catherine of Siena, represents the various Pathways we are journeying in our lives. It embodies the movement flowing among us, as well as the single, sacred journey we share as a community of life. The divergent paths and passages we took to enter this holy space symbolize the convergence that underlies our stories and our Vision: different paths ~ same journey; different paths ~ same center; different paths ~ same destination.
We gather this evening, as educators, writers, pastoral workers, healers, artists, contemplatives, activists, lawyers, administrators, social workers, organizers, communicators, spiritual directors, and more: retired and employed. We come from Argentina to Adrian, from Seattle to Miami, from Boston to San Antonio, from DC to Chicago, from Raleigh to St. Louis, from New Orleans to Santa Cruz, from Detroit to Santo Domingo, and multiple places in-between. We gather as a community, under the mantle of the Vision that we, who are Dominicans of Adrian, adopted at our Chapter last February, 2004. It is this Vision that calls us this week to the process of communal study, contemplative prayer and sharing our life in community for the sake of creating right relationships with the entire Earth community.
The Vision calls us to explore what it means to live as members of a single community of life and create empowered, inclusive, and ecclesial communities, in the heritage of Dominic and Catherine, at this unique and particular moment of history of the Earth community. We are reminded, in the words of the Earth Charter that:
We stand at a critical moment in Earth’s history, a time when humanity must chose its future. As the world becomes increasingly interdependent and fragile, the future at once holds great peril and great promise. To move forward we must recognize that in the midst of a magnificent diversity of cultures and life forms, we are one human family and one Earth community with a common destiny. (Preamble to the Earth Charter) (1)
As you know, the Vision Integration Connecting Circle has chosen the ritual context for this week to be the Universe Story. This is a story that holds all our stories. It is a cosmic origin story that is told to us primarily by scientists who are now able to observe and quantify the age and self-organizing processes of an emerging Universe. This story is relatively new to many of us; it continues to evolve; and as any good story, it has the capacity to shift our imaginations and the way we humans see ourselves in relation to our God, our various relationships, to ourselves, and even to Earth. It is a story that is infused with wondrous mystery and is embedded with concepts of incarnation and sacramentality, that invite us to reconsider our images of God and articulation of our Christian story.
I invite you now to view for a few moments a short video clip that is a portrayal of this our cosmic origin story. It is entitled, “The Journey: A Voyage of Discovery from Stardust to Us” (2) and was created by the Foundation for Global Community in California. Let the images from the Hubble space telescope and the awe of the creative Energy who began all this flow over and around you. (A six minute excerpt.)
And so we see from this brief excerpt, that scientists, by using powerful technology, such as the Hubble telescope and advanced microscopes, can now plumb the macro and micro dimensions of the Universe and document some of the incredible cosmogenesis process of which we are a part. We know, for the first time in history that we are literally made of stardust. The calcium in our bones and the iron in our blood were made in the supernova events that created the basic particles and elements that we studied in the periodic charts in our chemistry classes. We now know that we share the same elements with all other beings of Earth. Or as theologian Elizabeth A Johnson, csj, has written, “Rather than the medieval construct of the hierarchy of being and honor ascending from the pebble to the peach to the poodle to the person, all under the sway of the monarchical God at the apex, asceticism reconfigures that pyramid into a circle of life with human beings thoroughly interwoven with all other creatures, special in virtue of being conscious and free but utterly interdependent on others for their life. (3) The knowledge and experience of this relatedness deeply affects how we live our lives and the choices we make for the future.
Given the increasing complexity and cooperation of early life forms, we now know that they are our ancestors and we depend on them for sustaining our very lives. Our connection and interdependence isn’t just rhetorical or symbolic. Without the first cells that learned to breathe and eat light, we would never be here. The One Who Is Mystery began the first birthing of the Universe over 13.7 billion years ago. As Thomas Berry has said, “The Creator has created a self-creating Universe.” The evolution of the galaxies and our solar system, and our rare and privileged planet Earth over 4.6 billion years ago, with its capacity to sustain incredibly diverse life forms, continues the creating process through itself and in us through the cultural responses we create. This process is called cosmosgenesis: the genesis story continues and has not come to an end. The story continues through Earth and through us ~ through our imaginations and intuitions and intelligence and actions.
I submit that our Vision has come to us through a process of cosmosgenesis with its continual unfolding and evolution over these past 40 years. Every chapter since our Renewal Chapter of 1968 has been an articulation of a movement towards greater awareness of the diversity and power of community, and our response to the needs of the world, for the sake of the Mission. Embedded within the Universe’s cosmosgenesis is our communal cosmosgenesis story, and our own personal cosmogenesis story. Each one of us has a story about our personal shifts and changes and transformations that are grounded in a single, deep “thread” of our lives. Poet William Stafford writes in his poem, The Way It Is,
There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread. (4)
It is by hanging on to the thread of meaning within the larger universal unfolding that we move through the experience of cosmosgenesis or transformation. This is same process that Earth herself uses to adapt to new complexities of life.
It may be helpful during our study week that we can each take some time to reflect upon our own cosmosgenesis process. No two people shift in the same way but the process reflects how Earth herself continues to adapt to new circumstances. For most of us there is a common thread or theme in our lives that keeps us anchored during significant destabilizing moments of change. The “common thread” for me, for example, has been a consistent call to deepen my personal response to social and global injustice from a communal and faith perspective. This nudging has led me to continue probing my interdependence and solidarity with other beings who share Earth with me.
As we grow in awareness of our integral oneness with all beings, living and non-living, who share our planet, it gives new meaning to Jesus’ words: “I come that all may be One.” Jesus just might be inviting us to realize that our very our bodies and spirits are quite literally a manifestation of one divine, mysterious, unfolding process. While scientists continue to discover the quantifiable evidence that the entire natural world is one, interconnected, self-organizing system, the mystics within many religious traditions, and our own Christian tradition, in particular, already knew this to be true. (cf: Hildegard of Bingen, Meister Eckhart, Mechtilde of Magdeburg, Francis of Assisi, and Dominic, with his insistence on the goodness of matter). I submit that the understanding that we are all members of a single community of life has profound impact on how we approach our Vision, seek truth, make peace, and reverence life.
And so we enter into this week steeped in story and the “magic” and power of the Summer Solstice. Perhaps the light of these long days will inspire us to contextualize our stories in fresh ways and provide us with sustaining power and compassion to care for those who are most vulnerable and voiceless. We enter into this week seeking new ways of seeing. Robert McAfee Brown once said, “What you see depends on where you stand. What you hear depends on whom you listen to.” (5) If I stand only in the 1/5 privileged world of the wealthy that consumes 80% of the world’s goods and am not aware of the 4/5 world that is struggling to survive on the crumbs of the remaining 20%, then I will have that perspective of the life. If I stand with immigrant women seeking political asylum because their family had to flee from a repressive government and military troops, then I will have another perspective.
This week is a time for us to stand in different pathways and hear the stories of where we stand in our daily lives and ministries. It is a time for us to be stretched, to put on new lenses, to see dimensions that have been hidden from us before. African- American essayist, Audre Lorde, wrote about a time when she switched from glasses to contact lenses. She wrote: “I see much better now … and my eyes hurt.” (6) Sometimes it hurts to see too clearly all the pain and the suffering of our world. We want to turn away from the pain, to deny its claim on us, to fill our lives with distractions and addictions. Evolving, emerging consciousness depends on what we see, what we experience, what and whom we are exposed to in our lives.
Joanna Macy in her book, Coming Back to Life, (7) summarizes what is needed to bring about the Great Turning, as she terms it, from the Industrial Growth Society to a Life- sustaining Society and identifies three mutually reinforcing dimensions. We as Dominicans of Adrian and Edmonds have been engaged in much of this process already.
This second dimension is equally crucial and many of us have been engaged in various forms of both aspects over the years. Both structural analysis and creation of alternatives hold seeds for a more just and sustainable future. In order to free ourselves and our planet from the damage being inflicted by imposed systems of economic globalization, that benefit the owners of capital and burden the others, we must understand its dynamics. We also need to understand the interlocking systems that imprison us in an unquenchable economy that uses Earth, as supply house and sewer. It is critical that any alternatives we create, in order to be inherently just and reflect right relationships with Earth community, be grounded in healing the radical discontinuity between Earth and humans.
3. The third factor that Joanna identifies in the Great Turning is a shift in perceptions of reality, both intellectually and spiritually.
Responses that address structural analysis and creation of alternatives cannot survive without deeply ingrained values and community to sustain them. New initiatives must reflect how we relate to the suffering Earth and each other. It is not just the outcomes that are important, but the very way in which they operate that is significant and brings about transformation. We need to be savvy, competent, compassionate, transformative, even playful, in the way we think and create alternatives to competition, isolation, and greed. These actions require a transformation, a profound shift in our perception of reality, both as an intellectual and a spiritual awakening.
The insights and experiences that enable us to make this shift in perception are like the hub of a wheel; they enable its turning. They arise from our grief for our world, acknowledging the error of our thinking we humans are separate and isolated from the rest of the natural world. Changing perceptions arise from our breakthroughs in scientific thought and from the wisdom traditions of native peoples and the disenfranchised voices of women. They arise from our spiritual traditions, especially from the mystical voices within our religious traditions.
It is out of this framework of seeking new insights and perceptions that we are invited on Thursday to enter into the Council of All Beings. (8) The Council of All Beings was created by John Seed and Joanna Macy as an expression of our solidarity with the voiceless ~ those beings, human and other, whose voices and needs never make it into other forums or Councils where decisions are being made about them. We will practice the skills of compassionate listening and perhaps be stretched a little more into the reality of other beings who are voiceless.
This shift in perception that is necessary for change to be sustained is another way of describing an emerging consciousness that is reflective of Earth’s evolution. Significant change or transformation often depends on (1) what we see or experience, (2) what we are exposed to in our lives, (3) how we internally reflect upon what we see, and (4) how we then act. Our stories are shaped by what we see, and the worldview or the paradigms through which we process our experience. George Lakoff, in his best selling book, “Don’t Think of an Elephant” (9) calls this worldview or paradigm structure, a “frame.” Based on the creative work of the Foundation for a Global Community, I have prepared a few slides in a power point presentation to take a look at how worldviews (or frames) generally get formed:
As we go forth from here, this evening, we are invited to enter into a time to examine our own worldviews and to consider having our frame of references stretched so that we may more fully include the stories and realities of others. Let us welcome the surprises and stretching this week holds for us. As anthropologist Angeles Arriens says, whatever happens this week will be right; whoever is here are the right people. There are many options available and are identified in our programs. We will each practice the rule of our feet this week: showing up for what has heart and meaning for us. In the evenings make your choices whether to see a featured video, start your own group/conversation, visit with a friend, spend time in reflective artistic expression, do circle dancing, or go to bed or be creative in your own unique ways.
In closing, let me say that while the Vision Integration Connecting Circle did not design this week with the intention of sending us all home with yet more work to accomplish, this is, nevertheless, an incredibly important time to network and link with one another. Therefore, if you have a desire to initiate a conversation or action on some topic not on the agenda, please self-organize your own gathering. There will be a bulletin board near the Weber elevator for you to post time and place for your conversation…and any outcomes that you want to share with the larger group. We will share any action commitments and outcomes with each other as the week ends.
Now, in true Dominican tradition, let us move on to the Weber lobby so we can continue the celebration of this evening!
1. The Earth Charter.www.earthcharter.org
2. Foundation for Global Community. 222 High Street, Palo Alto, CA 94301. www.foundationforglobalcommunity.org
3. Johnson, Elizabeth. Passion for God, Passion for the Earth. http://www.americancatholic.org/Newsletters/SFS/an1003.asp. October 2003.
4. Stafford, William. The Way It Is. Gray Wolf: St. Paul, MN, 1977.
5. Brown, Robert McAfee. Theology in a New Key. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1978.
6. Lorde, Audre. Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches. The Crossing Press Feminist Series. Trumansburg, NY: The Crossing Press, 1984.
7. Macy, Joanna and Brown, Molly Young: Coming Back to Life: Practices to Reconnect Our Lives. Gabriola Island, BC: New Society Press, 1998.
8. Seed, John and Macy, Joanna. Thinking Like a Mountain: Towards a Council of All Beings. New Society Press, 1988.
9. Lakoff, George. Don't Think of an Elephant: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate--The Essential Guide for Progressives. Tinmouth, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing Company , 2004