(Note: This piece of writing is adapted from a presentation given to the Cuyamungue Institute on 8/16/20 as part of a Sunday Lecture Series. The full presentation is available on YouTube (click here to view).
As a person raised in the Jewish faith, but a seeker of spiritual truth across multiple traditions (thus interspiritual), I’ve often found it difficult to spiritually “come out” and profess a deeper love of the world’s many spiritual and sacred teachings. For two years, I worked with the Vincentian Catholic Order in Plainsboro, New Jersey at the Vincentian Renewal Center (also known as St. Joseph’s Seminary) running a program on Interfaith Spirituality.
There I brought together our local Catholic community with a variety of spiritual leaders from Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Protestant faiths including a “Non-scientist”, Jennifer Morgan, author of a popular children’s series called “Born with a Bang” and founder of the Deep Time online Network, who was engaging with faculty at Princeton University on the Scientific aspects of the birth or our Universe Story. This interfaith work grew out of my involvement with a two-year training program which I undertook at age 38 with a wonderful adult-learning community called “The Guild For Spiritual Guidance”, at a time when I keenly began feeling a loss of purpose in my life. The Guild offers a 2-year training in “Spiritual Guidance”, a system of listening and companioning others to discern their own inner guidance, and seek their “Northern Star” or inner direction. The program helped broaden my understanding of traditional Western religion by exposing me to the teachings of many great Western Mystics (e.g. Hildegard of Bingen, Julian of Norwich, Meister Eckhart, Henri Nouwen, Nan Merril, Madeleine L’Engle and Quakers such as Jon Yungblut and Morton Kelsey).
Strangely, it also helped me better appreciate my own Jewish faith through my study of the Mystical elements of Judaism taught by Rabbi David Cooper based on work from Isaac Luria, Abraham Joshua Heschel and others. The Guild program focused not only on Western Mystics, but also on the work of the Swiss Psychoanalyst Carl Jung, and the French Jesuit Paleontologist Teilhard de Chardin.
Up to that point in my life, I had not found a meaningful spirituality within my own Western culture, but only saw how our society tends to trivialize the Sacred as either being inconsequential and overly subjective or divides spirituality into distinct religious domains of knowledge. The Guild training showed me the Sacredness of Western wisdom, even my own Jewish tradition and how it could often become deepened and enriched alongside Christian, Islamic as well as Eastern teachings be they Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh, Jain, Taoist or Confucian. Since that time of the Guild training which I completed in 1999, I’ve been working closely with Non-profits as a Systems Analyst, developing what I call “Systems Intuition” and helping guide the application of Technology for the benefit of participants in Behavioral Health and Employment programs designed to better their quality of life.
Over the years, as I continued to touch more deeply into the Interfaith work which I began with the Vincentian Catholic community, I worked with with other Non-Profit organizations whose missions tended to engage in some form of Social Change. One in particular, the Deep Time Network (https://dtnetwork.org/), is an online network of Scientists, Artists, Activists, Scholars, Teachers and Spiritual/Religious leaders who share an interest in Maria Montessori’s “Cosmic Education”, The New Story and the “Journey of the Universe” material along with the objective Science-based Origin story narratives emerging including Big History.
These many Interspiritual experiences, times when I’ve had the opportunity to encounter profoundly the spiritual practices of other traditions, which have helped open my mind to hearing a new story, one told by Science along with the cross-cultural mytho-poetic interpretations from various sacred traditions. I wish to present to you one such interpretation inspired by the “Journey of the Universe” documentary, a multimedia project (film, book, reflective conversations) begun during Thomas Berry’s life in collaboration with his students by Brian Swimme and Mary Evelyn Tucker (no family relation) and others. Within this context, I hope to also explore the role Ecstatic Postures and other embodied spiritual practices might play in providing an experiential way of aligning our inner wisdom with our outer knowing, both head and heart together with this new story of the birth of our Universe and its ongoing cosmogenesis.
What is the “Journey of the Universe”?
The “Journey of the Universe” is a life-affirming story told from a distinct point of view emphasizing the potential for humans to live in symbiosis with Earth and every other living being, and affirms our place within this “Cosmo-genesis” (where each moment the Universe is being born). This remarkable documentary helps us translate larger scientific discoveries into a series of poetic reflections set during a 24-hour period filmed on the Greek Island of Samos – in the Aegean Sea off the coast of Greece. I’m intrigued with a statement that Brian Swimme makes in the closing scene of the documentary “Journey of the Universe” as he climbs aboard a fishing boat and leaves the island of Samos at night heading back out into the dark Aegean Sea.
“We are beginning to understand the profound powers of the universe.
And just as these powers have brought forth galaxies, stars and
life itself, perhaps the universe is now unfolding towards some new destiny.
What if our ultimate destiny is to experience the universe so deeply,
we come to realize that we are in some sense, the mind and heart of the universe?”
Swimme’s mytho-poetic interpretation of Science carries our hearts and minds across a noticeable gap in our daily life – a gap which most of us feel as we reflect upon whether we are living each day connected with the mind and heart of this vast and elegant Universe. The Native American Artist and Shaman, David Paladin, once said that the role of a Shaman is to tell a good story during times of trouble in the midst of great difficulties. I would offer that Brian Swimme is taking the role of a cultural Shaman in the Journey of the Universe documentary and using the powers of our symbolic consciousness to help tell a “New Story” about our place in the Cosmos. In this sense, I’m using the term “mytho-poetics” to describe our human ability to interpret, provide meaningful commentary or prose in response to our encounter with the Numinous or Sacred (based upon Karen Armstrong’s work “History of God” and “History of Myth”). I’m primarily interested in the mytho-poetics that arise from within the context of Sacred Culture along with Science which is very much an important part of our World’s heritage and Culture.
What is the “New Story” (A Subjective Narrative, based on Science and Mytho-poetics)
Back in 1978 Thomas Berry wrote in his essay “The New Story” about the “emergence of a galactic system in which each new level of expression emerges through the urgency of self-transcendence, an interpretation of the Science concerning the birth of our Universe. Thomas could be described as “Eco-Theologian”, as he trained as a priest within the Passionist Catholic order, earned a PhD and eventually taught at a number of Roman Catholic Universities. Several of Berry’s students expressed that he thought of himself more as a shaman than a scholar or a priest – “one who entered deeply into the powers of the Universe and Earth and brought back an integrative vision for the community”
“It was the shamanic dimension of my own psychic structure that required that I go into some manner of inner experience with the natural world”, Berry explained near the end of his life. “This was not simply to enter into some form of the spiritual life, but to take on a social role. That role came in promoting the New Story and the activism it called forth.”
As a non-scientist, I have difficulty describing the details and the immensity of the discoveries Science has made regarding the origins of our universe in the last 100 years. There’s a huge back story, and it involves a great number of scientific discoveries measuring photons of light emanating back 13.7 billion years.
- 1905 Einstein publishes his theory of Special Relativity (and General Relativity in 1915). “Einstein’s field equations written in 1914 had predicted that our universe was not static, but either expanding or contracting.” (see “Awakening Universe, Emerging Personhood: The Power of Contemplation in an Emerging Universe”, Mary Conrow Coelho)
- 1929 Edwin Hubble and his astronomical observations led to the discovery that our Universe is currently in a state of Expansion, and that “galaxies are hurtling away from our galaxy and from each other” at a mind-blowing rate of Expansion ( tens of thousands of kilometers per second” per Awakening Universe, Emerging Personhood, pg 13) – also see Barrow and Tipler, p 368
- Given that the Universe was discovered to be expanding, Scientists were able to hypothesize a single, unified ancient origin in what has become known as “The Big Bang” model, proposed by a Belgian Catholic Priest, Mathematician and Astronomer, Georges Lemaitre (Giorges Lumaytruh) or as Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry refer to it “The Great Flaring Forth”. Other models, such as “Steady State”, favored by Sir Fred Hoyle who coined the term “Big Bang”, suggest the density of matter remains unchanged throughout the expanding Universe because matter is continuously being created (see “3 Problems with the Big Bang”).
In less than a second, the four fundamental forces — electromagnetism, gravitation, weak nuclear interaction, and strong nuclear interaction …
- 1941 – Andrew McKellar and other Scientists help lay the groundwork for the discovery of Cosmic Background radiation built on earlier spectroscopic work and then in …
- 1964 – Two Bell Labs Scientists, Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson hear the sound of the birth of the Universe in the form of microwaves (made by “the actual radiation that issued from the expanding fireball when freely moving particles of light – photons escaped”) using Radio Astronomy and a large microwave horn antenna. The data derived over this period lends greater observational support for the Big Bang model of our universe.
- 1989 – the Cosmic Background Explore (or COBE) NASA satellite mission was launched to test the accuracy of the theory of “The Big Bang”. This probe measured temperature variations in the cosmic background radiation which could be detected with sensitive instruments on board the Satellite.
- When the Hubble Telescope was launched in 1990, this allowed Scientists to view galaxies and stars from the earliest moments of the universe’s birth.
- In 2001 – another satellite was launched which could measure the Cosmic Microwave backround more precisely, the Wilkinson Microwave Anistrophy Probe (or WMAP). From this data, scientists have been able to estimate the age of the Universe at 13.7 billion years
- In 2008, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) went operational and has provided much of what Science knows of the first moments of the universe and the formation of the first particles (and has been shutdown since 2018).
Note: If you would like to learn more about the science of the “Journey of the Universe” documentary, click this curriculum resource produced by Matthew Riley: