Recently, I was at a retreat house in New Jersey with a group of older religious Sisters who were finishing up a week of prayer and reflection. I sat across from a retired Sister of Saint Joseph at dinner one evening and she asked me, what does it mean to live in evolution? All this talk about evolution, she said, I am not sure I really understand it [or why we need to keep talking about it!] I am sure a lot of people have the same question. Can’t we just talk about God, people, and politics? What’s the big deal about evolution?
First, it is important to recognize that every person has a particular world view. A world view is the way one views the world; it is based on culture, religious beliefs, and orientation to the world. For years we were told that heaven is above us and God watches over us. If we do good in this life, then at death we will go to heaven to live with God forever. The four pillars of this world view are quite familiar to us: heaven, hell, judgement, and death. Do good, avoid evil so when you die you will go to heaven to live with God forever. In a sense, this worldview is like a box bounded on four sides. In the box are certain key elements: God, world, love, sin, death, eternal life. Because it is closed, nothing new can happen in the box of life. Life means following the rules until you get to the other side. There is no room for transformation. Anything new distorts the status quo. So, if I am living in an all-white neighborhood and I am taught from childhood on that Jesus saves only white people and a black family moves next door, I can become outraged, since my world is white, middle-class, with western European roots, and a black family from Africa is simply an anomaly. The phrase “they are not part of us” is an expression of my closed world view based on what I was taught about us and what I believe about us, namely, that we are superior in every way. Similarly, I can become upset if the Pope announces that clergy can now be married, or women will be ordained deacons. If I grew up in a Church with celibate males and no women on the altar, then such changes can disrupt my religious world to the point where they can seem opposed to what God has ordained.
Evolution topples this fixed static world view. The word “evolution” comes from the Latin evolvere meaning “to unfold.” To say life unfolds means change is part of nature; we are on the move. The universe we are a part of has a long history and an infinite future; it is expanding. There are no fixed rules in nature; rather, there are operative principles and patterns that enable nature to sustain itself and for life to flourish. Nature is malleable and can do new things; there is novelty in nature. Given sufficient time and the right conditions, new things will form. There is no “above” or “below” earth, there is rather the planet earth which is part of the Milky Way galaxy which is part of other galaxies which are part of a cosmos or whole. Where is God in this world view? From a Christian perspective, we know God to be within, the empowering center of every element of life. In the Incarnation God assumes materiality. God enters into that which is not God and, through the rise of consciousness, one becomes aware of the presence of God. Jesus symbolizes the human capacity for this awakening. But God is also ahead because God is always more than anything that exists. Hence God is our future, the One in whom the fullness of new life exists. So God is in every person, leaf, and star, and the future of everything that exists. How do we know this to be true? Because science studies nature and God is the ground of nature, the mysterious depth of nature, and the future of nature’s becoming. Faith seeks understanding, Saint Augustine said, and science deepens our understanding of nature. And what science tells us today is that nature is formed by entangled fields of energy. From the most basic levels of life up to the human person, we are bound together by webs of energy. And these interlocking energy webs are in movement. Strangely enough, they are moving toward more complex levels of relationship and higher levels of consciousness. Evolution means that life is a dynamic process; it is not static. In an evolutionary world, life embraces change, chance, and randomness.
One of the primary influences on this process is consciousness or the flow of information which creates awareness. As energy fields overlap or converge, consciousness rises. On the human level, this means when we encounter another person we are interacting with them on a fundamental level of consciousness or informational flow. If I resist this encounter or refuse to allow the information to flow into my conscious self then I artificially constrict evolution by refusing to converge with another. However, if I am open to the fullness of life, then I accept an encounter as an opportunity to deepen consciousness and form new levels of relationship. So when the black family moves next door, my world is not disrupted; rather, I recognize them as my extended brothers and sisters because we are bound together in a cosmic whole. We are family. Faith assures me that the God in me is the God in them. As I open myself up to them as neighbor and friend, my awareness changes. I begin to learn new ways of being in the world, new ways of showing compassion, maybe even new recipes for family gatherings. My world and their world now overlap and together we are forming a new world; we are evolving.
In his new book Incarnation: A New Evolutionary Threshold (Orbis, 2017), Diarmuid O’Murchu identifies key aspects that can help us form an evolutionary worldview:
Leaning on the Future
Evolution flows when we look together toward the future, remaining open to convergence and new ways of life, including new ideas, new ways of knowing, new forms of belief, and new ways of doing things. We begin to realize that we are not stuck in a cosmic rut; our world is not a machine of “haves” and “have-nots.” We are moving and we are on our way to becoming something new. When the level of our awareness changes, we start attracting a new reality.