It’s the third week of the Season of Creation. Depressed yet? Even in my attempts to preach more positively about the environment this year, I’m still sensing some sadness from you all, some hopelessness. Some guilt. Or maybe that’s my own sadness, hopelessness, and guilt I’m projecting on to you all. Could be.
I have something to share with you today, though, something that’s giving me hope as I seek to care for creation. It’s a movement called “evolutionary spirituality.” Evolutionary spirituality is based on the idea that not only is it possible to believe in both Christianity and evolution, but that evolution actually can inform and deepen our faith. Some even believe that “Evolution is Darwin’s greatest gift to theology”
One of those people is Michael Dowd. After a dramatic conversion as a young adult, Michael attended Evangel University. One day he told his roommate: “Satan obviously has a foothold in this school!” “Moments earlier, he had stormed out of freshman biology class after the teacher held up the textbook they’d be using—one Michael recognized as teaching evolution. How else could he explain why a Bible-believing, Assemblies of God institution would teach evolution?” It must be Satan. (Thank God for Evolution, 310)
After a journey that led him to seminary, through some pastorates in UCC churches, and to a lectures series in New York City where he met his wife Connie Barlow, Michael now calls himself an “evolutionary evangelist.” He and Connie travel North America preaching the gospel of evolution. Yes. That’s what they call it—the gospel (good news)—of evolution.
What is the good news of evolution? The good news evolutionary evangelists preach begins with what they call The Great Story. Dowd describes The Great Story as “humanity’s common creation story. It is the 14-billion-year science-based tale of cosmic genesis—from the formation of galaxies and the origin of life, to the development of consciousness and culture, and onward to the emergence of ever-widening circles of care and concern.” Last week we talked about the differences between the languages of science and faith. The Great Story combines those two languages to tell a tale in which every person, religion, and culture; every plant, animal, and microbe; every planet, solar system, and galaxy plays a role. It is, as Dowd writes, “the sacred story of everyone and everything.” It is the Great Story.
So, how can this sacred story of everyone and everything help us heal the earth? How can it make us happier, more hopeful, less guilty? How is the Great Story good news for us?
There are many bits of good news in The Great Story. Today we’ll look at these three: (1) the universe can be trusted, (2) we are part of the universe, and (3) we are part of evolution.
Those who are familiar with the Great Story’s narrative (geologists, paleontologists) assure us of this: the universe can be trusted. From the beginning, the Great Story has unwaveringly unfolded in exactly the same way: toward “greater diversity, greater complexity, greater awareness, greater speed of change, and greater intimacy with itself.” (1170)
That means we don’t have to wonder how creation is going to evolve. We might not know the precise details of the process, but the pattern has been going on long enough that we can trust it to continue unfolding in the same way. So, as desperate as the state of the environment might seem, the Universe can be trusted to continue unfolding in the same way, a way that adapts well to changes. That is cause for hope. The first piece of good news: The universe can be trusted.
The second piece of good news: We are part of the Universe. It’s easy when thinking about evolution to take ourselves out of the equation….to imagine ourselves on the sidelines watching evolution unfold rather than seeing ourselves as part of the process.
Minister and author Bruce Sanguin writes about the moment he realized that he wasn’t apart from the universe but was, in fact, a part of it. “Almost 20 years ago, on a silent retreat,” he says, “I had a profound experience in which I understood myself to be the presence of the universe in human form. The dualistic separation between myself and the universe collapsed. I wasn’t here as a visitor to a strange and alien pre-existing cosmos, I was its native expression. I realized that, after 13.7 billion years, the universe had coalesced in form and consciousness in my own being. I was a product of the evolutionary process of the cosmos. More than that, the universe was continuing its evolutionary unfolding in and through me.” (K -155 ff)
For the guilt-prone among us, this notion that we are part of the Universe and not apart from it is very good news…because it means that saving creation isn’t only up to us human beings. No. Because we are connected with the rest of creation—and because creation can be trusted to do its evolutionary thing—we can work with the rest of creation to help it heal. Earth care isn’t something we do TO the earth; it’s something we do WITH earth. The second piece of good news: We are part of the Universe.
The third piece of Good News from the Great Story: We are part of evolution. So, if we aren’t apart from the Universe, but actually are a part of it, then the story of evolution is unfolding in us. Right this minute! And look what has happened through that evolutionary process: we have acquired brains, brains that can conceive wondrous things. Brains that, when applied to the problems facing creation, can affect—and even E-ffect—evolution.
The idea that we can affect the way evolution unfolds is called “conscious evolution.” It’s the idea that our brains, our ideas, our creativity are part of the evolutionary process…and that our consciousness has evolved in this way at this point in history precisely “to deal with the new human condition.” Evolution doesn’t happen outside of us and our thoughts. Our thoughts are part of the evolutionary process. (When you realize that YOUR thoughts are influencing the evolutionary process of the Universe, it kind of makes you want to think more about science and love and literature than Dancing with the Stars, The Bachelor, and Project Runway, doesn’t it?)
I’ve been talking for how long? And I haven’t mentioned the Bible once. Is that a sign that evolutionary spirituality has no room for the Bible? Are our Scriptures simply too antiquated to speak to the spirituality of science-savvy, enlightened people in the 21st century?
I’ve shared with you some really good news from evolution today—that the universe can be trusted, that we are part of the universe, and that—through our consciousness– we are capable of affecting the flow of evolution…and if we choose well, we can affect it positively.
But the real good news today comes from the Proverbs passage we heard read. It begins: “The Lord created me at the beginning* of his work*.” Do you know who the “me” is in this passage? It’s wisdom. Wisdom is personified and speaks. The real good news for us who hope for the wholeness of creation is that we don’t have to do it all by ourselves. As human beings, we do have the most advanced brains in the universe (that we know of), but we do not have all the wisdom. Here’s the best good news of all for those who hope for the wholeness of creation: Creation has a wisdom of its own. Creation care isn’t something we have to do TO the earth. Oftentimes, the best way to care for creation is simply to listen to it, to learn from it, to watch in wonder as its own story in its own wisdom unfolds.
I’m going read the passage from Proverbs again with a couple of tweaks. As you listen, imagine the power of creation’s wisdom. Imagine the power of your own wisdom. Imagine how you might contribute to the flow of evolution. Hear now a reading from Proverbs.
“God created Wisdom at the beginning, the first act of long ago. 2324When there were no depths, Wisdom was brought forth–when there were no springs abounding with water. 25 Before the mountains had been shaped, before the hills, Wisdom was brought forth— 26 when God had not yet made earth and fields, *or the world’s first bits of soil. 27When God established the heavens, Wisdom was there, when God drew a circle on the face of the deep and 28made firm the skies above, when God established the fountains of the deep and29 assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress the divine command, when God marked out the foundations of the earth, 30then Wisdom was beside God, like a master worker; *and Wisdom was daily God’s* delight, rejoicing before the Creator always, 31rejoicing in the inhabited world and delighting in the human race.”
“Before the beginning of the earth,” there was wisdom. In every bit of creation, in every atom of the universe, in every electron, proton, neutron, and quark, wisdom—God’s delight—resides. It’s important to do what we can to act earth into well-being. And perhaps the first action to take—and the wisest—would be to listen to creation and learn from its wisdom. In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness. Amen.
The gift of the Great Story is that it gives us a context for living out our individual stories—a context of creation, a context of interconnectedness, a context of divine love. The stories of Devin and Wayne and Steve today are entering a new chapter—a chapter where they are a family. And because they understand their family’s individual story to be unfolding in the context of The Great Story of divine love, they want to acknowledge the creation of their family in the context of this community. And they want us to participate. What better way to celebrate the love of our Creator than through baptism with water and through acknowledging in a worship service that they are at last, officially a family? Shall we get to it?
(Baptism of Devin Williams Scott and Ritual of Adoption for Devin and his dads, Wayne and Steve.)
Resources on evolutionary spirituality:
If Darwin Prayed, by Bruce Sanguin
Thank God for Evolution, by Michael Dowd