A Cosmotheandric Language of Belonging

It is no secret that I love England and greatly look forward to my next visit, whenever that may be.  I am often charmed by the names of English towns and civil parishes such as Abingdon-on-Thames, Berwick-upon-Tweed, Appleby-in-Westmorland, Ashby-de-la-Zouch, Ashton-under-Lyne, Barton-upon-Humber, Elstree and Borehamwood, Grange-over-Sands, Henley-in-Arden,[1] and Stow-on-the-Wold,[2] for example, whose names identify relationships of location, such as proximity to other towns, bodies of water or features of the landscape, as well as governance, mergers, or simply renaming in such a way as to incorporate prior names and histories. These hyphenated names, grounded in a sense of place and meaning-making, point beyond themselves to larger questions of location and relationship.  What is our proximity and relationship to one another, the divine, and the universe — on, in, and, under, upon, over? According to Ilia Delio, our relationship is one of belonging, and the location is everywhere.

Delio is at the forefront of a theological effort to recover a sacred cosmos and reconcile it with contemporary science.  In doing so, she surfaces an emergent lexicon for speaking about a “we” that includes all of creation and the divine.  In The Hours of the Universe Delio describes the medieval worldview that led to “a deep, integral relationship between the human person (microcosm) and the cosmos (macrocosm). In other words, the human had a role in creation: to reconcile matter and spirit in union with Jesus Christ.”[3] With the rise of modern science, however, science and religion, cosmos and anthropos, were separated.[4]  In the writings of Teilhard de Chardin and Raimon Panikker Delio finds the language to push past this conceptual impasse.  She explains,

Teilhard uses the term Christogenesis to indicate that the biological and cosmological genesis of creation—cosmogenesis–is, from the point of faith, Christogenesis. The whole cosmos is incarnational. Christ is organically immersed with all of creation, in the heart of matter, thus unifying the world.[5]

Delio continues, “Jesus Christ is the physical and personal center of an expanding universe, and the spirit sent by Christ continues evolution in and through us,”[6] thus we are an integral part of an emergent and Christic whole.  We belong.

            Raimon Panikker provides a compound word – cosmotheandric – to describe the idea that cosmos, God, and anthropos (human) are not separate, but rather, Delio explains “a totally integrated vision of the seamless fabric of the entire reality. This cosmotheodric reality is symbolized by the Christ, in whom divinity, humanity, and cosmos exist in a unified reality.”[7] Delio proposes that creation and incarnation are thus entwined and “oriented towards the fullness of Christ.”[8]  In illuminating this idea, Delio refers to a sermon (IX) by St. Bonaventure:

Christ shares existence with each and everything: with the stones he shares existence, with the plants he shares life; with the animals sensation… all things are said to be transformed in Christ since in his human nature he embraces something of every creature in himself when he was transfigured.[9]

Centuries later, cultural historian and ‘geologian’[10] Thomas Berry, informed by contemporary science, similarly reflects, “The universe is a unity, an interacting and genetically related community of beings bound together in an inseparable relationship in space and time; …each being of the planet is profoundly implicated in the existence and functioning of every other being of the planet.”[11]  Thus, Berry was known to often say that we can feel alone, but we can never truly be alone; we can feel alienated, but we can never truly be alienated.  For we are an integral part of a sacred universe community.  Yet, many feel alienated from nature, the cosmos and God, due, at least in part, to the inadequacy of modern language to capture the integral nature of Being.

In The Spell of the Sensuous ecologist and philosopher David Abram explains that human languages were originally expressions of both the human community and the animate earth.  Borrowing from the field of phenomenology, he describes language as an ongoing exchange “between our own flesh and the flesh of the world.”[12]  With the emergence of a phonetic alphabet in ancient Greek culture, however, written images lost evidence of ties to the natural world and became, instead, solely human referent.  Abram maintains that by making language a code to be understood on a secondary level rather than immediately experienced in relation to the world, humans created an abstraction that separated them from the animate world.  He writes, “As the splashing speech of the rivers is silenced by more and more dams, as we drive more and more of the land’s wild voices into the oblivion of extinction, our own languages become increasingly impoverished and weightless, progressively emptied of their earthly resonance.”[13] From a theological perspective, we might say that they are also emptied of their divine resonance.

            Studying languages throughout the world, especially those of indigenous peoples, Abram finds that it is breath or wind, referred to as Holy Wind, that enables one to speak, filling in the spaces between consonants with sounds, animating speech and giving meaning to the words.  This Wind is “a property of the encompassing world, in which humans – like all other beings – participate.”[14]  In ancient Hebrew the word “ruach” could be translated as “spirit,” “wind” or “breath.” A feminine aspect of God, Ruach was there at the beginning of creation as a co-creative power, awakening all life into being.

            According to Abram, it is the same breath of Ruach that awakened the ancient Hebrew aleph-beth (alphabet), consisting only of consonants, into being.  The ancient Hebrew texts required the reader’s conscious participation, activity choosing the vowels as one read, thus varying the meaning of the written consonants and words they formed:

The text was never complete in itself; it had to be actively engaged by a reader who, by this engagement, gave rise to a particular reading.  Only in relation – only by being taken up and actively interpreted by a particular reader – did the text become meaningful.  And there was no single, definitive meaning; the ambiguity entailed by the lack of written vowels ensured that diverse readings, diverse shades of meaning, were always possible.[15]

Citing the work of scripture scholar Barry Hotly, he furthers, “Reading was a passionate and active grappling with God’s living word ….”[16] This is the participatory linguistic practice out of which the Christian tradition emerges – one that can be recovered in a new context.

While reducing speech to written words has removed us from the natural world, rendering it non-inclusive, might we reopen the spaces between the consonants, hyphens and compound words by inviting Ruach to breathe through them to create welcome places for all of life, the human and non-human, to participate together in shaping a new cosmotheandric language of belonging?  What might that look, feel and sound like?  The character of Shug in “The Color Purple,” by Alice Walker, gives us a sense of it when, reflecting upon God, she says,

My first step from the old white man was trees. Then air. Then birds. Then other people. But one day when I was sitting quiet and feeling like a motherless child, which I was, it come to me: that feeling of being part of everything, not separate at all. I knew that if I cut a tree, my arm would bleed. And I laughed and I cried and I run all around the house. I knew just what it was.[17]

Without the wild energy of Ruach our religious endeavors are cut off from their very source and destination.  By reopening language to Holy Wind, we allow the source of life to speak in all of life.  Might we, then, untame our language and allow for the fullness of divine love and expression to reunite us into a Christic “we”?

Notes:

[1] Henley-in-Arden is a town in the Stratford-on-Avon District in Warwickshire, England. The name is a reference to the former Forest of Arden.

[2] A “stow” is a house or lodge.  It can also refer to putting away something for future use. Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, s.v. “stow,” https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/stow. And a “wold” is a hilly, upland area, usually in an open countryside. Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, s.v. “wold,”  https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/wold.

[3] Ilia Delio, The Hours of the Universe. Reflections on God, Science, and the Human Journey. (Maryknoll, NY:  Orbis Books), 60.

[4] Delio. Hours of the Universe, 61.

[5] Delio. Hours of the Universe, 64.

[6] Delio. Hours of the Universe, 65.

[7] Cit. Delio.  Hours of the Universe, 45.

[8] Delio.  Hours of the Universe, 74.

[9] Cit. Delio.  Hours of the Universe, 74.

[10] Thomas Berry called himself a “geologian,” acknowledging that he emerged from and studied Earth.

[11] Thomas Berry, edited by Mary Evelyn Tucker, Evening Thoughts, Reflecting on Earth as Sacred Community, edited by Mary Evelyn Tucker (San Francisco:  Sierra Books, 2006),

[12] Abram, D., The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World (New York: Vintage Books, 1996), 89, 82.

[13] Abram, Spell of the Sensuous, 86.

[14] Abram, The Spell of the Sensuous, 237.

[15] Abram, The Spell of the Sensuous, 243.

[16] Cit. Abram, The Spell of the Sensuous, 243-4.

[17] Goodreads, Alice Walker, Quotes.  https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/533567-here-s-the-thing-say-shug-the-thing-i-believe-god.

7 Total Articles

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