It is Enough to Live the Questions
I have been asked to write a reflection on my time at An Tairseach so this is not the story of the project, which has yet to be written, but a personal statement of a twelve year journey into, dare I say it, the mystery at the heart of the universe. Crucial to this story was four months prior to coming to Wicklow which were spent in Genesis Farm where I was immersed in the big story of my life and indeed of every life, what has come to be called The Universe Story. Our parents had no way of knowing this story. Inherited wisdom told them that the world was probably 6000 years old and that it came into being fully formed more or less as they knew it at the time. Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution was not widely accepted nor considered very relevant to daily life or to the life of faith. In our time, with the huge advances in scientific knowledge, we know that our universe had a beginning approximately 13.7 billion years ago and that it has continued to evolve over all these years bringing us to the point where we are today. Studying that story meant coming to a realisation that our individual lives have only been made possible by all the other beings that have preceded us. The stuff of our bodies has been created in the heart of stars. Our capacity to see, hear, think, feel emotion, dance, imagine have all been inherited from our ancestors in the natural world. Even our spiritual dimension which enables us to be in touch with the divine is, as Teilhard de Chardin claims, the gift of the universe. For me this realisation changed my whole attitude to the world around me. I realised that all that exists, including myself, had its origin in what has come to be called, somewhat irreverently, the “Big Bang”. We are all connected in the most profound ways. We are in fact all ONE. We do not always realise this. That is why Jesus prayed: ”Father, may they be one as we are one” ( Jn 17; v 21).
As I reflected on this question I recalled a little booklet by Anselm Moynihan, which was given to us in the novitiate, called The Presence of God. In it he stressed that God is both immanent and transcendent. I realised again and more profoundly what immanence means. God’s presence is throbbing in every dimension of the universe. As I look around me and see the sun rise over Wicklow Head, the sea in all its moods, the grass growing, the animals from whom we could learn so much, I recall Elizabeth Johnson’s claim in her book “Quest for the Living God” that we are not Lords of the Universe or even Stewards of the Universe but participants in the community of life. It then occurred to me that the mystics had it right. Francis of Assisi knew it when he talked of Brother Sun and Sister Moon. Everything is sacred. Eckhart knew this when he said “Every single creature is a book about God. Every single creature is full of God.” Was not this also Dominic’s message to the Albigensians? All creation is good.
This mediaeval world view gave way in time to a more mechanistic worldview arising out of the scientific revolution of the 16th century. In this perspective the natural world was just inert matter, a resource to be exploited by humans for their purposes. This worldview formed the background to the Council of Trent which laid down the framework for much of the theology that pertains to our day. Hence the importance of availing of the insights of science and cosmology as we seek to find language to speak about God to the people of our time. In the sabbatical programme which I have been privileged to be part of for the past seven years we have an opportunity to study the new cosmology and from that vantage point to look at our images of God and our way of communing with the divine. For most of the participants it is a wonderful journey of discovery. As staff we do not provide the answers but rather create a space where participants can explore their Christian spirituality in the light of the new cosmology, the wisdom of our Celtic tradition, the wisdom of the mystics in the context of our endangered earth. Wasn’t it Thomas Aquinas who said “any mistake in our understanding of the natural world will lead to error in our insight into the mystery of God.” The big challenge for all of us is to live these new insights. If we are in fact all One then the people of Syria and Afghanistan are in truth our brothers and sisters. The suffering and inequality in our world really come home to trouble us.
I am deeply grateful for the opportunity I have had here, in the company of other Dominican sisters to search for an integral spirituality, which means living into the Oneness which is God.