“Set in a landscape of great natural beauty, our deliberations were enriched by our Franciscan communion with creation. We move forward with the challenge to deepen our understanding of Cosmic spirituality and its implications for our life, our prayer and our mission.“
Future Direction. General Chapter 2016
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Since I have left Rome and returned to the United States, several people have encouraged me to do some writing. It was many years ago that I sent out “Contemplative Stance” a bi-monthly reflection aid. Perhaps it is timely now to pick up the pen again for another booklet/newsletter with a slant that is both cosmic and contemplative. I have never really, deeply, questioned what put it into Francis of Assisi’s head to call the sun, “Brother”, and the moon, ‘Sister.” What led him to consider as siblings, the air and water and fire and all created things? Somehow with an amazing, ingrained intuition, Francis grasped the marvelous TRUTH of all creation, that, in fact, we are all one family. Do you not somehow feel very much “at home” outdoors under a setting sun, sitting on a beach watching the waves splash on the shore or hearing a dove coo in the early morning? The ambience is comfortable, is it not? Family-like!
During this sabbatical year, after spending ten weeks in Wicklow, Ireland at the Dominican Cosmic Spirituality Program, it seems now so crystal clear that Francis saw right through to the beginning, the interconnectedness of all matter. “Christ is the first born of all creatures (in God’s family). He is before all else that is and in him everything continues in being” (Col 1:17 -18). “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was in God’s presence and the Word was God” (John 1:1). Thomas of Aquinas wrote, “God brought things into being in order that God’s goodness might be communicated to creatures and be represented by them; and because God’s goodness could not be represented by one creature alone, God produced many and diverse creatures...” For me that Wicklow Course was wonderful, an eye- opener to be sure, and I would love to share it with you as best I can through these little ramblings. I acknowledge with gratitude all those who gave the input as so much of this newsletter is based on my Wicklow notes. So, let us begin this journey. This Journal will have 4 or 5 parts to it: A theological reflection, a bit of scientific wonder, our earth’s cry of pain, an example from a mystical writer and some suggestions for action here and there. We shall see what unfolds. I welcome any comments or reflections you might like to share.
Jeanette Gaudet, mfic
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By Ilia Delio OSF
The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the spirit of God was moving over the face of the water. And God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light.”
A Franciscan View of Creation
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It’s such a gift to have this time because we spend so much of our day busy and distracted. We’re so busy focusing on our goals and challenges that we rarely look around and appreciate how incredible the Universe is.
When we become aware of the beauty and immensity of the universe, we experience enormous benefits, like raising feelings of humility, gratitude, and inspiration. It helps cast our lives in a deeper light, putting our day-to-day stresses in larger perspective. In our sessions together, I often talk about how living mindlessly takes us away from the moment right in front of us. Today, I’d like to talk about the cosmic profundity of that present moment - any moment - every moment. Including this one. And I don’t mean what’s happening within - our thoughts and emotions. That’s all tremendously important. What I’m talking about is what’s all around us.
If you think about it… This very second, the cosmos is orchestrating itself in ways almost too magnificent to believe. You’re sitting on a planet spinning at over 1,000 miles per hour, and it’s hurtling around the sun at over 70,000 miles per hour. Our star is one among more than 100 billion in the Milky Way Galaxy, all churning away in a mesmerizing, galactic spiral. Think of all the forces and processes at work right now, from gravity to photosynthesis. And let’s not forget about the most complicated machine known to humankind resting on your shoulders, the human brain with its 100 billion neurons
There’s a wonderful Japanese word for which there isn’t really an equivalent in the English language. The word is, "Yuugen," It roughly means: an awareness of the universe that triggers emotional responses that are too mysterious and deep for words. As Carl Sagan said, “ The Cosmos is all that is or was or ever will be . Our feeblest contemplations of the Cosmos stir us -- there is a tingling in the spine, a catch in the voice, a faint sensation, as if a distant memory, of falling from a height. We know we are approaching the greatest of mysteries.” Perhaps sometime this week, you can try experiencing a state of Yuugen. Try sitting under the stars for a few minutes, marveling at the Universe, its beauty and vastness.
Credits: Calm Inc.
Used with permission
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We stand at a critical moment in Earth's history, a time when humanity must choose 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. We must join together to bring forth a sustainable global society founded on respect for nature, universal human rights, economic justice, and a culture of peace. Towards this end, it is imperative that we, the peoples of Earth, declare our responsibility to one another, to the greater community of life, and to future generations.
Earth, Our Home
Humanity is part of a vast evolving universe. Earth, our home, is alive with a unique community of life. The forces of nature make existence a demanding and uncertain adventure, but Earth has provided the conditions essential to life's evolution. The resilience of the community of life and the well-being of humanity depend upon preserving a healthy biosphere with all its ecological systems, a rich variety of plants and animals, fertile soils, pure waters, and clean air. The global environment with its finite resources is a common concern of all peoples. The protection of Earth's vitality, diversity, and beauty is a sacred trust.
The Global Situation
The dominant patterns of production and consumption are causing environmental devastation, the depletion of resources, and a massive extinction of species. Communities are being undermined. The benefits of development are not shared equitably and the gap between rich and poor is widening. Injustice, poverty, ignorance, and violent conflict are widespread and the cause of great suffering. An unprecedented rise in human population has overburdened ecological and social systems. The foundations of global security are threatened. These trends are perilous—but not inevitable.
The Challenges Ahead
The choice is ours: form a global partnership to care for Earth and one another or risk the destruction of ourselves and the diversity of life. Fundamental changes are needed in our values, institutions, and ways of living. We must realize that when basic needs have been met, human development is primarily about being more, not having more. We have the knowledge and technology to provide for all and to reduce our impacts on the environment. The emergence of a global civil society is creating new opportunities to build a democratic and humane world. Our environmental, economic, political, social, and spiritual challenges are interconnected, and together we can forge inclusive solutions.
To realize these aspirations, we must decide to live with a sense of universal responsibility, identifying ourselves with the whole Earth community as well as our local communities. We are at once citizens of different nations and of one world in which the local and global are linked. Everyone shares responsibility for the present and future well-being of the human family and the larger living world. The spirit of human solidarity and kinship with all life is strengthened when we live with reverence for the mystery of being, gratitude for the gift of life, and humility regarding the human place in nature.
We urgently need a shared vision of basic values to provide an ethical foundation for the emerging world community. Therefore, together in hope we affirm the following interdependent principles for a sustainable way of life as a common standard by which the conduct of all individuals, organizations, businesses, governments, and transnational institutions is to be guided and assessed.
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To know nature more deeply is to sense its mystery, its depth, and its value. It is to know as an image of the sacred: a sacrament of the divine. The cosmos truly speaks to us of God.
Scientific knowledge about the cosmos is not the whole picture for us. Even the best positive knowledge and explanation of things does not necessarily tell the whole story. Knowing is not all there is; explanation does not account for everything. Reality is multi-dimensional, and the human reaction to reality is similarly multi-dimensional. Before we engage in scienti c knowledge, we relate to the cosmos in other ways. One of these ways is through the human imagination. In reflecting on this, we shall begin by reaching back to the thirteenth century when the role of the human imagination was of basic importance in the human perception of the universe.
I shall draw out a number of the principal images and metaphors used by the Franciscan St. Bonaventure di Fidanza which appeal largely to the imagination. It is through these that Bonaventure describes the universe and its relation to the divine – remarkably concrete images which are related to his understanding of reality and the ways in which it can be known or understood. These metaphors help Bonaventure to interpret the meaning of the universe.
Recognizing the immense changes in the human perception of the physical cosmos that have entered into the Western understanding of reality since the days of Bonaventure, I will attempt to look at the kinds of insights suggested by several of the metaphors used by Bonaventure and to ask whether anything similar to his reading of the cosmos is possible for us today in the face of the radical changes in our understanding of the physics of created reality.
Imaginations, Metaphors, Cosmic Revelation in the ought of Bonaventure
Each creature and the whole of creation is in its truest reality an expressive sign of the glory, truth, and beauty of God. Only when creation is seen in terms of the self-di usive love that is its source and its nal end is it seen for what it truly is. We shall look at several examples from the work of Bonaventure that give expression to this vision at the level of metaphor and symbol.
Circle/River e image of the circle appears in a variety of ways in Bonaventure. At one level, it is a symbol of the divine trinity which describes God as an intelligible circle, whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere. Elsewhere, the circle may be seen as a symbol of the origin of all things in the creative fecundity of God and the return of creation to the same mystery of divine love as their nal end. e symbol of the circle can be seen in yet another way if the circle is thought of as a river which returns to its point of origin. It envisions the river owing from the immensity of the sea and eventually returning to the fullness of its point of origin. e divine trinity, then, can be seen as the fountain- fullness from which the river of reality ows both within the mystery of God in the form of the triune life of love, and outside the divinity in the form of creation.
Water e Trinitarian God of productive, creative love can be compared to a living fountain of water. Flowing from that fountain as something known, loved, and willed into being by the creative love of God is the immense river of creation. e world of nature in its vastness is the expression of a loving, intelligent creator. Like water, the cosmos has many dimensions and diverse qualities. inking of water in the form of the oceans, it suggests the overwhelming fullness of creation as it ows from the depths of God. Like an ocean, the cosmos is deep and contains many levels of meaning. inking of water in the form of a river, we can see how it re ects the movement and uidity of the cosmos. Thus, for Bonaventure the metaphors of the circle, the river, and water elicit a sense of the immense diversity, fertility, and uidity of creation. No one form of created being is an adequate expression of the immensely fertile source that resides in the divine, creative love. erefore the diversity of beings which in fact exist in creation is a more appropriate form of divine self-expression. And, as the river eventually closes back on its point of origin, so creation is a dynamic reality, directed in its inner core to a ful llment and a completion with God.
Song Bonaventure reaches back to one of the metaphors of Augustine to compare the universe with a beautifully composed song. He recognizes that it is necessary to grasp the whole of the melody if one is to appreciate the song fully. It is also clear to him that a well-cra ed melody relates notes to one another in terms of pitch and rhythm in such a way that the true significance of the individual note can be discerned only through the network or relations which constitute the melody. Bonaventure also recognizes that, in the depths of the human spirit, there is a desire for a certain numerical proportion which must be present in the structure of the melody if it is to work e ectively. This metaphor suggests the need for a sense of wholeness, a sense of the dynamic inter-relatedness of all the elements that make up the melody of the cosmos, and the hope that there is, in the context of the wild diversity of creatures, some principle of unity and order.
Book When speaking of the relation of the cosmos to God, Bonaventure speaks of a book “written and without.” e content of the book is rst written in the consciousness of God in the form of the divine Word. at Word contains all that the divine is in itself, and all that God can call into being outside God. When that Word is expressed externally, what comes into being is the created cosmos, the form in which the Work of God’s consciousness becomes visible and audible as the book “written without.”
Window While teaching in Paris, 1273, Bonaventure watched the completion of the cathedral of Notre Dame. Just a short distance from the cathedral was the remarkable building known as Sainte-Chapelle built while Bonaventure was still a student at Paris. Knowing the medieval fascination with the physics, metaphics and mysticism of light, it is easy to appreciate Bonaventure’s insights on the sun’s shining on stained glass: In every creature there is a shining forth of the divine exemplar, but mixed with darkness: hence there is a sort of darkness mixed with light. Also, there is in every creature a pathway leading to the exemplar. As you notice that a ray of light coming in through a window is colored according to the shades of the di erent panes, so that divine ray shines di erently in each creature and in the various properties of the creature. [Collationes in Hexaemeron 12,14 (V, 386)] The Cosmos is, as it were, a window opening to the divine.
Microcosm/macrocosm In humanity we discover that in a representative way, something of all of the elements of creation are present in the human being. In some sense, all creation is present in the microcosm that constitutes the human being. And when Christ, in his created human nature is trans gured in the mystery of the res- urrection, Bonaventure can see here the beginning of the trans guration of the cosmos.
Cross The cross provides a symbol by which Bonaventure relates the whole of cosmic reality and its history to the revelation of the Scriptures which deal with “the high and the low, the rst and the last, and all things in between. e entire universe is an intelligible cross in which the entire structure of the universe is described and made to be seen in the light of the mind.” [Breviloquium, Prologue, #6 (V, 208)
In summary, for Bonaventure, the relation between creation and God may be expressed in terms of manifestation and participation. All things in the cosmos exist so as to manifest something of the mystery of God. And all things exist by virtue of some degree of participation in the mystery of being that ows from the absolute mystery of the creative love of God. An appropriate reading of the book of the cosmos gives us some sense of the divine goodness and fecundity; of the divine wisdom and beauty; of the divine intelligence and freedom; and of the relational character of the divine mystery of the trinity in which all of creation is grounded.
Contemporary Cosmology as RevelationThe question for us is whether the cosmos as we see it today can be read as a revelation of the mysterious richness of divine being. It is my view that the real issue is not proving the existence of God through the use of reason and/or sense experience.
It may well be that science, precisely as science and by virtue of scienti c methodology, knows nothing about God. is is not a problem as long as we do not claim that science alone de nes the range of meaningful discourse. There are clearly other dimensions involved in the human relation to the cosmos. It is my conviction that the entire range of human experiences and questions ought to be brought to bear on our attempts to understand who we are and what sort of world we live in. What is of interest to a re ective religious believer at the present time is the question as to whether we may see a certain sort of coherence between the concerns of religion and the insights of science. How can the cosmos viewed in the light of the best empirical knowledge available to us through the sciences, be said to manifest the mystery of God to those who believe in God and who believe that the physical universe which is described by the sciences is the universe which God is creating? A contemporary view of the cosmos evokes a profound sense of its seemingly impenetrable mystery. Apparently boundless in space and time, it is a dynamic, unfolding, organically interrelated cosmos, marked by some degree of unpredictability together with forms of order which are at times unexpected and yet remarkable in their beauty.
It was Bonaventure’s conviction that if one learns to read the book of the cosmos correctly, one will discover something of God’s wisdom, beauty, power, and love. Following are some perspectives from which we might see the cosmos as a revelation of God, to see the various forms and rhythms of nature as at least distant re ections of divine qualities.
1. The incalculable immensity of the cosmos in both in space and in time inspires wonderment in the face of what seems to be so radically dependent and apparently not necessary. It has led people of all ages to see the cosmos as grounded in some form of mysterious necessity; to see the relative as grounded in some mysterious Absolute.
2. The cosmos reveals a ba ing number of diverse forms of created things. Faith and theology see this diversity as an expression of the divine fecundity of being poured out in such richness that it would not be appropriately expressed in a single form or even in a few forms of created being.
3. Scientists see a universe of things intimately intertwined at all levels. is points to the possibility that the cos- mos is really “systems within systems” throughout; i.e., it appears to be rela- tional through and through. It is the core insight of the traditional trinitarian concept of God that the divine reality is intrinsically relational in character.Christian believers today can see the cosmos as grounded in and as re ecting the relational character of the trinity.
4. Science assumes that the cosmos is intelligible but limited in its predictability. A person of faith expects some form in intelligibility because of the divine intelligence but one would not be surprised if things are not totally predictable, because of the divine freedom.
5. Contemporary science sees humanity to be deeply imbedded in the cosmic material process out of which life emerges, eventually conscious life with intelligence and freedom. Just as pre-modern man saw humanity as a microcosm, contemporary science realizes that the human being contains within its own de- velopment from conception onward the mineral, vegetative, animal, and finally rational dimensions of the cosmos. A person of faith may see that human- ity is integrated to the material world through the body but also see that humanity is integrated in the world of created spirit. Such a person experi- ences humanity as being at the point of integration of these two dimensions of matter and spirit.
6. Nature displays a remarkable ambiguity, marked by unmitigated beauty as well as the struggle for life. The pervasive movement to more and fuller life moves through pain, struggle, and death. is reality might well be represented in the symbol of the cosmic cross put forth by Bonaventure. Christ as the embodiment of the cosmic-word also gives us the gure of the man on a cross, an image which may well re ect the ambiguity observed in nature. In all this, nature can still be seen as a revelation of God. It is through nature that God brings us into being and sustains us. When we look at the cosmos from a Christological perspective, we can say that God loves and cherishes the world and all in it. God desires that the cosmic order be brought to ful lling completion which is anticipated in the personal destiny of Jesus as the risen Christ.Thus we are in a position to be serious about the sacred character of the world of nature without turning it into God. And when we look from a cosmic perspective, we can say that, in the nal analysis, the cosmos is not cold and indi erent, but nally bene cent and life-giving. In Christian terms, we can say that the creative power that generates and sustains cosmic reality including humanity and draws out its ever new forms of being is a power that is loving, personal, forgiving, and fulling.In Christ we discover that the true nature of creative power is enacted as “humble love.” We nd that for human beings, the appropriate way of interrelating with each other and with the world around them is through the ethics of self-giving love, even though the world operates on the basis of other principles in other dimensions. And in Christ we nd the hopeful vision for a successful outcome for the entire cosmic process, even though the future seems quite dark and unpredictable when we view it simply in terms of the empirical science.