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.

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5 Comments

  1. geemapox on October 20, 2022 at 11:33 am

    A beautiful essay. In her closing lines, I heard Hopkins’ words from “The Windhover”–
    “My heart within me stirred for a bird.” The English Romantic poets found spirituality in nature, and our contemporary love of Francis of Assisi and his nature mysticism resonate similarly. The science that informs Ilia Delio and Thomas Berry is akin. Whether related as species or as atomic matter, we are siblings with everyone and everything. Nature is our mother, and the cosmos is our home.



  2. Joe Masterleo on October 21, 2022 at 8:02 pm

    Save for a reflective and enlightened few blessed to see in wholes, a world-wide consciousness prevails that is the cause of all division, antagonism, conflict, and war. It is the hallmark of the carnal mind to split, rather than reconcile, all opposites and apparent contraries in the unredeemed psyche, and to do so in a manner largely unrecognized. These interior splits and divisions are then projected onto others, the environment, and God, and experienced as such there. At best, sin (or separation-consciousness) is a form of ignorance; at worst, it’s downright madness. As in political bodies, it is in the nature of such darkened souls always to see the evil outside itself, in the opposite group, and to get rid of everything they doesn’t care to know about themselves by foisting it off on somebody else (via othering). It’s this rampant deficiency in seeing reality as it is, and it’s won’t for love for God, self, others, and nature that suffers most of all from this lack of understanding (or ignorance) wrought by projection. Divided souls create divided politics, divided churches, divided religions, divided nations, and divided (unreconciled) disciplines. So if/when God let’s you in on that little known truth, and restores your soul to unitive consciousness (the Christ mind), by all means share it with others. But ONLY IF they’re receptive. Cast not your pearls before swine, or what’s holy before dogs. Lest they, being on the road to perdition, ascribe to you (as with Jesus) the very madness that possesses them, and decide to treat you likewise. All of which is to say, notions of christogenic evolution notwithstanding, the human species remains in its infancy, and very much along bestial lines. Where love stops, power begins, and violence, terror, and all manner of evil. On being rendered temporarily insane by his own sin, later to awaken from same (by grace), Israel’s mighty king David said it best in prayerful confession to his Maker, “So foolish was I, and ignorant. I was as a beast before Thee.” (Ps. 73:22). If the relatively few regenerate living souls that exist at a given time manage to barely escape the delusional ravages of their own self-defeating splits, contradictions, and sins (also by grace), then as a whole, what chance does unconverted world-wide humanity have?



  3. Emily DeMoor on October 21, 2022 at 10:09 pm

    Thank you for your lovely response! I love the connection you make with Gerard Manley Hopkins, who is one of my favorite poets! Hopkins, St. Francis of Assisi, Ilia Delio/Teilhard and Thomas Berry — it doesn’t get any better than that!



  4. George Marsh on October 22, 2022 at 9:39 pm

    Mr. Masterleo, your view of the world is compelling. Creation is fraught with peril. Many situations seem diabolical. And yet, the Risen Christ offered Julian of Norwich the consolation that all evil is negligible compared to God’s all-encompassing Love. Julian concluded that “all will be well.” When Jesus told the disciples not to fear the rough sea, chiding them for their little faith, I heard an echo of another saying of our Teacher, “Fear is unnecessary; what is needed is trust.”

    Peace (Jesus’s last blessing, “not as the world thinks of it.”)



  5. Emily DeMoor on October 24, 2022 at 10:16 am

    Joe, I hear and share your angst, especially as I witness climate change unfold and remain an unwitting bystander to the brutal ravaging of Ukraine. Your analysis is very poignant and well-articulated, as always. And while I agree with most of what you say, I also have some divergent views.

    I believe that more than a few people have a holistic worldview, but their voices, often indigenous, go largely unheard. And western civilization is catching on, especially among our youth. Gabby Sloan and my son, Nicholas, are shining beacons in this regard. Also, the story of an emergent universe tells us that life always finds a way; nature always forges an innovative path forward through the muck – one that may or may not include you and me, as I know you know.

    But the main point of your argument that I wish to address is this: “Where love stops, power begins, and violence, terror, and all manner of evil.” Along with other theologians (such as our esteemed Ilia Delio) I believe that love is power – the ultimate power; the power of creativity, regeneration and emergence. And this power is now and not yet. Love is redemptive, even in our ignorance, and I count myself among the ignorant, as there is so much more to learn.

    Like you (in other posts), I have deep concerns about the Church and its future. Yet, so long as we love – so long as we welcome the immigrants (Catholic Charities in Owensboro, KY does an amazing job with this), feed the hungry, clothe the naked, care for the sick, and carry out the other tasks that Jesus called us to, we are on a trajectory that holds the seeds of a viable future. Whether those seeds germinate into a consciousness of wholeness and restoration remains to be seen, but there surely is promise. I watch as people in my community embrace refugees from Latin America, Afghanistan and Ukraine and assist those in southwest Kentucky who are still recovering from the tornadoes that passed through nearly a year ago. I watch as students decorate buckets that will be housed with water filters and brought to people in eastern Kentucky who still do not have drinkable water after the floods weeks ago. And I see in these actions identification and solidarity with those to whom they are ministering. This is surely a step towards the consciousness you are describing.

    Joe, I appreciate your thoughts and look forward to many more discussions with you.



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