Category Archives: Thomas Berry

The Powers of the Universe: Homeostasis

One of the major shifts in consciousness required for our time is that we belong to the evolutionary co-creative process, and it is in discovering our mutual interdependence within the cosmos, and particularly with planet Earth, that we will begin to reclaim our spiritual identity.

Diarmuid O’Murchu Reclaiming Spirituality New York Crossroads 1998


Homeostasis is the power by which the universe maintains what it values. It is a delicate dance of holding onto what is most important through all the swirls and shifts of change.

In his DVD series “Powers of the Universe”, Brian Swimme offers some stunning examples of the earth’s power of homeostasis:

*the dynamics that maintain the form and function of a mammal’s body;

*the human bloodstreams where the ph balance is the same as in the bloodstreams of most animals and fish; the temperature of the human body.

  • The earth herself remains in a state where life can flourish, even as the sun gets hotter; the earth has maintained its temperature over the four billion years, just as a mammal’s body does. The earth cycles through times of cooling when the ice caps swell to reflect more of the sun’s heat away; then it grows warmer so that the ice caps shrink. This cycle repeats every 100,000 years.

The Milky Way Galaxy cycles through its explosions of supernovas.  In one million year cycle where there are 8000 supernovas (a smaller number) the cloud becomes denser than usual, so the capacity to create stars is greater.

In the next million year cycle, 12000 supernovas explode.  Homeostasis.

 

Then we humans enter the realm of life with our quality of conscious self-awareness.

When we understand what is valued, essential for life on this planet, our perspective shifts away from focus on the part to the whole. The enormous ego-centricity of our lives in a nation like Canada or the United States shifts to embrace the need to maintain human life in other parts of the planet, then to look at what animal life/ tree life/ river life/ocean life /earth life requires for its continuance.

Though we understand ourselves to be the gathered-in-ness of 13.8 billion years of life in the universe (the power of centration), though we honour the search for love and fullness of life that draws us forward (the power of allurement) and though we rejoice in the restless creativity that is our personal invitation from the universe to be involved in emergence,  the power of homeostasis calls us to a care and vigilance, a keen awareness of the fragility of our existence, and  a sensitivity to vulnerable areas.

When Brian Swimme’s DVD series was released fifteen years ago, he could already see that homeostasis was falling apart in major life systems: the desertification of huge amounts of land, the poisoning of rivers and lakes, the loss of the rain forests, the very lungs of our planet… Why?

Swimme says it is because we humans are trying to use the power of homeostasis to maintain a subgroup of the whole rather than the whole body. We think our fundamental responsibility is to a sub-unit rather than to the whole body.

The great search happening in 2005 for fossil fuel in tar sands or through fracking, poisoning the water to release gas, Swimme described as a desperate effort to maintain a standard of life enjoyed by a favoured few.

Swimme calls it an intellectual illusion that humanity is separate from the earth community.

There is no human community without the whole. The earth community is a form of guidance for us, crying out to us that it is not inert material, not just stuff! It takes a major shift for us humans to see that we come out of the earth community, we derive from it. The matrix itself is primary.

Such an understanding would alter the way we organize life on the planet, calling us to create laws and establish policing to protect bio-regions as well as humans, to protect the right to existence of all life on the planet.

If we know that each being has a right to be we understand the need to restrict human activity so that the whole can flourish.

On a communal and on a personal level, the power of homeostasis will help us to maintain the achievements of our lives, to raise up energy and increase commitment to our work, to our relationships. We can tell the story of what we’re about, tell the story of our love relationships and maintain a zest for life! Millions of years, Swimme says, are involved in a single moment of zest.

Whenever and wherever we tell the story of our emergence out of the life of the planet, honouring all the forms of life that share our right to be here, we are the power of homeostasis, enabling life to blossom.

But homeostasis, as with the other powers of the universe, has its down side.

Maintaining and sustaining what we value in life, what keeps us sane, is important, but, as Jean Houston warns, holding onto anything for too long leads to stagnation, and “the universe gets bored with you”.

The opening scenes of the film, “the Wizard of Oz” show homeostasis as the absence of vitality. Nothing is happening in a place blown dry, grey-brown, empty. No one has time for the young Dorothy who is in a state of immense longing.

The only being who still has any zest for life is the little dog Toto.

When homeostasis goes on for too long, when life no longer holds zest, the next power of the universe must come into play:

Cataclysm ….  

Powers of the Universe: Emergence

Emergence and the Spirituality of the Sacred Feminine

Emergence: the universe flares forth out of darkness, creating, over billions of years, through trial and error and trying again, astounding newness: carbon for life in the middle of a star…. the birth of planets, our earth holding what is required for life to emerge….the creation of water from hydrogen and oxygen….the emergence of a cell with a nucleus.

Each of these seemingly impossible happenings did happen, offering us humans the hope that the impossible tasks confronting us in our time can be creatively addressed, showing us, as Brian Swimme expressed it, a domain of the possible beyond imagination.

Our human endeavour has been powered by non-renewable energy resources. Our task now is to reinvent the major forms of human presence on the planet in agriculture, architecture, education, economics…. We need to align ourselves with the powers of the universe, consciously assisting, amplifying, accelerating the process of creative endeavour.

In her teaching on the Powers of the Universe, Jean Houston speaks about how we can work with the universe in what it is trying to emerge within us.

We set up a schedule. We show up at the page, or in the listening or prayer place, regularly, to signal our intent to be open.

We create internal structures that are ready to receive what wants to emerge in us.

We drop in an idea that puts us in touch with essence, creates in us a cosmic womb so the universal power can work in us. Thus, like Hildegard of Bingen, we become a flowering for the possible, attracting the people and resources that we need.

Among the aspects of human life that require creative imagination for a new birth, I would like to focus on religion/spirituality/our way of relating with the Sacred.

More than thirty years ago the eco-theologian Thomas Berry wrote that:

the existing religious traditions are too distant from our new sense of the universe to be adequate to the task that is before us.

We need a new type of religious orientation….a new revelatory experience that can be understood as soon as we recognize that the evolutionary process is from the beginning a spiritual as well as a physical process. (Dream of the Earth Sierra Club, San Francisco, 1988)

Thomas Berry

What new revelatory experience, what new type of religious orientation is emerging today?

As I am neither a theologian nor a sociologist, I invite you to experience with me a fragment, a fractal, of the newness in spirituality, that is emerging among women with roots in Christianity, with branches that now extend to embrace a relationship of partnership with a sacred feminine presence whom some would call the Goddess.

Take a chair at the table in a room in a small Catholic college in western Canada. As part of a focus group of thirteen women, drawn from some one hundred interviewees, you’ve been asked to reflect upon the way you blend your Christian faith with a relationship to the feminine holy.

For several hours of concentrated conversation on this topic, facilitated by the research co-ordinator, you listen to your new companions.

What do you see? Hear? Experience? On this sunny late spring morning, one of the women leads an opening prayer in the four directions, calling on the presence of the Sacred Feminine to guide us in wisdom, in newness, nurtured by the gifts symbolized by earth, air, water and fire.

As each woman speaks, you notice the different pathways that have brought them here, that have awakened their awareness of a Holy Presence that is feminine. For some it is the writings of the feminist theologians, uncovering the deep but largely neglected tradition of Sophia /Wisdom, the feminine principle of God. For others it is through earth–based spiritualities such as indigenous beliefs and practices, or involvement in ritual, or Wiccan studies.

For the several Catholics present, Mary has been the pathway. As one woman recalls, “I was taught as a child that God was too busy to hear my prayers so I should pray to Mary instead.” Listen as other women tell of travels to places where the Sacred was known and honoured as woman in ancient times, especially sites in France and elsewhere in Europe sacred to the Black Madonna.

Statue of the Black Madonna in Holy Wisdom Benedictine Monastery in Wisconsin 

But mostly you are struck by the way that for each one, imaging the Holy as feminine has given a voice, a new power, a sense of her own value that were lacking to her in the time when God was imaged as male. Imaging God as woman gives an honouring to women’s bodies, especially needed in a culture where the standard for feminine beauty (young, slim, nubile) is set by men.

You hear women share without bitterness, but with a sense of having come to a place of grace, childhood and adult experiences of feeling devalued in Church – related settings because of being female. You smile with recognition as one woman recalls that when her teacher said, “God is in everyone,” she had asked, “Is God in me?” and was assured that was so. “Then is God a woman?” she asked.

Her teacher, a nun, responded, “There are some mysteries we are not meant to understand.”

Listen now to the responses when the facilitator asks, “How do you express your relationship with the Feminine Divine? Would you call it worship?”

No one feels that word fits. “She is a mother…”

“At first she was mother, but now is more of a friend”…

“A partner, inviting me to co-create with her.”

“Devotion is the word I choose, because it holds a sense of love,” and to this many agree with nods and smiles.

What stirs in you as you listen? Do you begin to sense that there is more to this emerging relationship to the sacred feminine than our need for her, our longing for her?

Is this emergence initiated perhaps by the Holy One herself who comes to us in our time of great need?

Statue of Brigid of Kildare  

Brigid of Ireland has been called “the acceptable face of the Feminine Divine”. Ancient Goddess and Christian Saint, Brigid is the threshold woman for our time.

Look around the table at your companions: these are power houses. The submissive woman, so beloved of patriarchal religions, has no place in a life devoted to the Goddess.

There is a rage for justice, for the transformation of life on the planet. One woman here has taken on the task of building and maintaining natural hives for bees; one is a  film-maker who wants to tell stories of women that will change the way we see ourselves in the images of most films and television; one is a Baptist minister who writes of the way Jesus is himself an embodiment of the Sophia-Wisdom principle; one is a theologian who identifies the Spirit as the life force found everywhere in each land and culture and tradition, linking all of life; one fiercely joins the struggle to defeat those who would modify and monopolize the seeds of the earth, or put poison in ground water to release its gas…

As you look at these devotees of the sacred feminine at this table, you see that they are living the new revelatory experience that Berry wrote about.

They are themselves the beautiful reflection of the Sophia, the Sacred Feminine, the Goddess of many names, emerging in the lives of the women and men of today who are opening themselves to her. They are, we are, the ones ready with her creative power at work in us to take on the great tasks that our times require.

Gloria Steinem has written: God may be in the details, but the goddess is in the questions. Once we begin to ask them, there is no turning back.

How will we assist in this Emergence?

Awaiting Earth’s Resurrection

Sophia Blog for April 9, 2019

The Sun— just touched the Morning—

The Morning—Happy thing—

Supposed that He had come to dwell—

And Life would all be Spring!

Emily Dickinson’s words express the reality of these April days in mid-eastern Canada. After one brief sunlit day of warmth, the frozen earth, snug under her fresh coverlet of snow, seems set to sleep forever. As the Festival of Easter draws very near, I understand at a deeper level than before, how the Earth is the primary teacher of hope, the first manifestation of love, the earliest image of the divine. In her rising each year from the death of winter, she restores our joy, our trust in her all-encompassing love. And so, we wait in hope for the snow to melt, for the solid ice to become flowing streams, for that first emergence of green life, of flowering beauty.

Paul, the first Christian mystic, understood this primacy of the earth, though over the millennia we have misconstrued his words, as Richard Rohr points out in The Universal Christ (Convergent Books, New York, 2019):

Paul writes, “If there is no resurrection from death, Christ himself cannot have been raised” (1 Corinthians 15:13). He presents “resurrection” as a universal principle, but most of us only remember the following verse: “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless, and your faith is useless.” (15, 14)….the reason we can trust Jesus’s resurrection is that we can already see resurrection happening everywhere else.(169-70)

Seeing the earth as the first Incarnation of God, Rohr writes:

In the mythic imagination…Mary intuitively symbolizes the first Incarnation—or Mother Earth…( I am not saying Mary is the first incarnation, only that she became the natural archetype and symbol for it, particularly in art, which is perhaps why the Madonna is still the most painted subject in Western art.) I believe that Mary is the major feminine archetype for the Christ Mystery. This archetype had already shown herself as Sophia or Holy Wisdom (see Proverbs 8:1 ff., Wisdom 7:7 ff.), and again in the book of Revelation (12:1-17) in the cosmic symbol of “a Woman clothed with the sun and standing on the moon.” Neither Sophia nor the Woman of Revelation is precisely Mary of Nazareth, yet in so many ways, both are – and each broadens our understanding of the Divine Feminine.” (123)

Rohr reflects further upon the images of Madonna and Child in Western art:

The first incarnation (creation) is symbolized by Sophia- Incarnate, a beautiful, feminine, multicolored, graceful Mary. She is invariably offering us Jesus, God incarnated into vulnerability and nakedness.

Raphael: Madonna and Child (Sistine Chapel of the Vatican, Rome)

Mary became the Symbol of the First Universal Incarnation. She then hands the Second Incarnation to us, while remaining in the background; the focus is always on the child. (124) 

Thomas Berry, the great eco-theologian wrote extensively on the universe as the incarnation of the Sacred. In this excerpt from his writings, Berry invites us to reflect on our experience of wonder.

“What do you see? What do you see when you look up at the sky at night, at the blazing stars against the midnight heavens?

What do you see when the dawn breaks over the eastern horizon? What are your thoughts in the fading days of summer as the birds depart on their southward journey, or in the autumn when the leaves turn brown and are blown away? What are your thoughts as you look out over the ocean in the evening? What do you see?

Many earlier peoples saw in these natural phenomena a world beyond ephemeral appearance, an abiding world, a world imaged forth in the wonders of the sun and clouds by day and the stars and planets by night, a world that enfolded the human in some profound manner. The other world was guardian, teacher, healer―the source from which humans were born, nourished, protected, guided, and the destiny to which we returned.

Above all, this world provided the psychic power we humans needed in our moments of crisis. Together with the visible world and the cosmic world, the human world formed a meaningful threefold community of existence. This was most clearly expressed in Confucian thought, where the human was seen as part of a triad with Heaven and Earth…

We need to awaken… to the wilderness itself as a source of new vitality for its own existence. For it is the wild that is creative. As we are told by Henry David Thoreau, “In wildness is the preservation of the world.” The communion that comes through these experiences of the wild, where we sense something present and daunting, stunning in its beauty, is beyond comprehension in its reality, but it points to the holy, the sacred.

The universe is the supreme manifestation of the sacred. This notion is fundamental to establishing a cosmos, an intelligible manner of understanding the universe or even any part of the universe. That is why the story of the origin of things was experienced as a supremely nourishing principle, as a primordial maternal principle, or as the Great Mother, in the earliest phases of human consciousness…

We must remember that it is not only the human world that is held securely in this sacred enfoldment but the entire planet. We need this security, this presence throughout our lives. The sacred is that which evokes the depths of wonder. We may know some things, but really we know only the shadows of things.

We go to the sea at night and stand along the shore. We listen to the urgent roll of the waves reaching ever higher until they reach their limits and can go no farther, then return to an inward peace until the moon calls again for their presence on these shores.

So it is with a fulfilling vision that we may attain―for a brief moment. Then it is gone, only to return again in the deepening awareness of a presence that holds all things together.”
~Thomas Berry~