A Deep Dive into Cosmotheandrism

by Emily DeMoor

In the October issue of New Creation, I explored the idea of a cosmotheandric language of belonging and resolved that “without the wild energy of Ruach our religious endeavors are cut off from their very source and destination.”[1]  In this piece I would like to take a deeper dive into cosmotheandrism by putting Loren Eiseley’s story “The Dance of the Frogs” in conversation with theology and science.

Raimon Panikkar’s word “cosmotheandric”[2] indicates a wholeness through intersubjectivity; the cosmos, God and humans participate in the substance and activity of one another.  Theologian Douglas Burton-Christie asserts that poetry and literature play “a crucial role in re-imagining our relationship with the natural world” [3] and in doing so, I suggest, provide insight into Panikkar’s theology.   Burton-Christie sees the literary genre of nature writing as a liminal space in which “it becomes possible to imagine the apparently impermeable boundaries that separate one place from another, spirit from matter, ourselves from other living species, ourselves from God, as permeable.”[4]

Nature writer Loren Eiseley’s story, “The Dance of the Frogs,” illustrates this permeability.  In this piece, a young, unnamed scientist comes across Albert Dreyer, an esteemed and mysterious elder scientist, in a tavern.  In a rare moment, Dreyer, who is usually private and sedate, divulges his experience of being caught up in the Spring rite of the frogs returning to the water for mating and laying eggs.  He recalls, “The water was pulling them – not water as we know it, but the mother, the ancient life force, the thing that made us in the days of creation, and that lurks around us still, unnoticed in our sterile cities.”[5]  Dreyer was being pulled as well, and became a spontaneous participant in the Spring rite: “Even as I leaped, I was changing.  It was this, I think, that stirred the last remnants of human fear and human caution that I still possessed.  My will was in abeyance; I could not stop.  Furthermore, certain sensations, hypnotic or otherwise, suggested to me that my own physical shape was modifying, or about to change.  I was leaping with a growing ease.”[6]

Dreyer continues, “It was just then that the wharf lights began to show.  We were approaching the end of the road, and the road, as I have said, ended in the river.  It was this, I suppose, that startled me back into some semblance of human terror.  Man is a land animal.  He does not willingly plunge off wharfs at midnight in the monstrous company of amphibious shadows.”[7]  Dreyer explains, “Nevertheless their power held me.  We pounded madly toward the wharf, and under the light that hung above it, and the beam that made a cross.  Part of me struggled to stop, and part of me hurtled on.  But in that final frenzy of terror before the water below engulfed me I shrieked, Help!  In the name of God, help me!  In the name of Jesus, stop![8]

As he reflects on his research with frogs, Dreyer confesses, “I have never been able to handle them for research since.  My work is in the past.”[9]  Earlier in the story the readers are told that Dreyer wears a black glove on one hand.  Dreyer now uncovers the mystery of the glove: “He paused and drank, and then, seeing perhaps some lingering doubt and confusion in my eyes, held up his black-gloved hand and deliberately pinched off the glove.  A man should not do that to another man without warning, but I suppose he felt I demanded some proof.  I turned my eyes away.  One does not like a webbed batrachian hand on a human being.[10]

            Although Eiseley’s piece is fictional, it points to the Teilhardian idea of a cosmic drive towards unity and wholeness.  Ilia Delio captures this drive when she writes, “God and the world consummate their desire for one another in the marriage of heaven and earth, precisely because God and world are entwined in creative union.”[11] She further explains: “Each in its own way exists in itself and with the other, so that the creative movement of life is always toward the fullness of love, a movement that is at once divine, created and cosmic…In Christ, God and cosmos are entangled in love and brought to explicit consciousness in Jesus of Nazareth.”[12]

Theologian Paul Fiddes similarly asserts that “the divine Word will not be spoken without physical meditation.  God takes on bodies in order to draw us into the triune relationships in God.”[13] According to Fiddes, “God happens in an interweaving flow of relationships like those between a father and a son, opened up and deepened by the currents of the Spirit.”[14]  We participate in these movements, which can also be gendered as female, through loving relationships.

If we are to understand Trinity as participative, both spirituality and materiality, we might interpret the ancient life force in Eiseley’s story as the love energy of the triune God through which all came to be; the allurement that continues to draw all of creation into unitive relationships; the cosmic Mother who draws her children back to herself.  It is this primal force that draws the frogs and Dreyer to the water to participate in a procreative Springtime ritual and, I suggest, into the maternal dimension of the Trinity.  It is noteworthy that Dreyer sees a cross as he takes the plunge towards the renewal of life, suggesting a spiritual aspect to his surrender that is reminiscent of Jesus’ transformative self-emptying.

While the chimerism[15] of Eiseley’s fiction seems unlikely, scientists have discovered that it exists within humans.  Fetal-maternal microchimerism occurs during pregnancy when cells are exchanged between a fetus and the mother.  The fetal cells can remain in the mother for decades.  While their effect has not been definitively established, recent data indicate “the promising role of microchimeric cells in the maternal response to tissue injuries by differentiating into many lineages.”[16]

What are the theological implications of fetal-maternal microchimerism?  What do thinking, loving, and reciprocity look like in intersubjective spaces?  Humans are changed by our encounters with other humans and with creation.  In Eiseley’s story, Dreyer’s webbed batrachian hand is an outward sign of his inner transformation.   As a result of Dreyer’s empathic fusion[17] with the frogs, he becomes more compassionate and can no longer do research with frogs, as he is now one with them.   We are a conglomeration of all we have loved and all that has changed us.  We bring our multiple selves to our relationships, as do all members of the cosmotheandric whole.  Abiding in our Mother, may we think with the mind of God and the nimbleness of leaping frogs, and love with the heart of God, the allurement of Spring, and the fecundity of ancient, primal waters.

[1]  Emily DeMoor, “A Cosmotheandric Language of Belonging,” New Creation, Center for Christogenesis, https://christogenesis.org/a-cosmotheandric-language-of-belonging/

[2] Cit. Ilia Delio.  The Hours of the Universe. Reflections on God, Science, and the Human Journey. (Maryknoll, NY:  Orbis Books), 45.

[3] Douglas Burton-Christie. “Mapping the Sacred Landscape: Spirituality and the Contemporary Literature of Nature.” Horizons 21:1 (1994): 22-47.

[4] Douglas Burton-Christie, “A Sense of Place,” The Way 29/1 (1999), p.64.

[5] Loren Eiseley, L. C., “The Dance of the Frogs,” The Star Thrower. New York: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1978, 112.

[6] Loren Eiseley, “Dance,” 114.

[7] Loren Eiseley, “Dance,” 114.

[8] Loren Eiseley, “Dance,” 114.

[9] Loren Eiseley, “Dance,” 115.

[10] Loren Eiseley, “Dance,” 115.

[11] Ilia Delio, Primacy, 32-33.

[12] Ilia Delio, Primacy, 34.

[13] Paul S. Fiddes, Participating in God: A Pastoral Doctrine of the Trinity. Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2000, 227.

[14] Paul S. Fiddes, Participating in God, 281.

[15] In Greek mythology a chimera was a “fire-breathing she-monster,” with the head of a lion, the body of a goat, and the tail of a serpent; “an imaginary monster compounded of incongruous parts.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, s.v. “chimera,” accessed November 11, 2022, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/chimera.

[16] Olav Lapaire , Irène Hösli, Rosanna Zanetti-Daellenbach, Dorothy Huang, Carmen Jaeggi, Susanne Gatfield-Mergenthaler, Sinuhe Hahn, & Wolfgang Holzgreve , “Impact of fetal-maternal microchimerism on women’s health–a review,” NIH National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17437192/.

[17] Jose Vasconcelos proposed coined the term ‘empathetic fusion’ to describe an encounter in which a person or subject loses him or herself in the experience of connection.  Roberto S. Goizuetta, Caminemos Con Jesús:  Toward A Hispanic/Latino Theology of Accompaniment. Maryknoll (New York: Orbis Books, 1995), 91. See José Vasconcelos, Obras Completas, 4 vols (México, DF: Libreros Mexicanos Unidos, 1958–61), 4:16.

7 Total Articles

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