Dear Pope Francis,
Hey there. Happy hump day! I don’t know about you, but this week has been a full one. I’m looking forward to the weekend when I don’t have any responsibilities on my plate. I guess weekends are kind of busy for you though, eh?
I wrote to you yesterday about why I thought I’d start this blog. Well, taking on the role of your roving beyond-the-Vatican reporter was only part of it. The other part grew out of those comments you made during your supposedly private meeting June 6 with CLAR, the Latin American and Caribbean Conference of Religious.
Wow. Did you realize what a firestorm just one private audience would create? The media coverage was positively breathless. Most mainstream media latched onto the “gay lobby” comments, while the Catholic press caught the reference to what might be your view on the difficulties between the U.S. Leadership Conference for Women Religious (LCWR) and the Vatican.
What caught my eye in the supposed transcript, however, was this:
“The second [worry] is over a gnostic current. These pantheisms… they’re both currents of elites, but this one is of a more formed elite. I knew of one superior general who encouraged the sisters of her congregation to not prayer in the morning, but to give themselves a spiritual bath in the cosmos, such things…. These bother me because they lack the Incarnation! And the Son of God who became our flesh, the Word made flesh…”
I have to say, Pope Francis, that I shook my head a little at that. I know you were speaking informally and without your doctrinal miter on, but I have to, respectfully, disagree with you on this point. You see, I think that superior general was onto something. There’s a lot to be said about the spiritual benefits of considering our proper place in the Universe.
I know, I know. I can hear you muttering. “Gnostic…pantheistic…nonsense…throws out…Incarnation…” But, hang on, hang on. Let me explore this a bit more for you.
I believe, and I’m not alone, that placing our concept of the Divine in the context of the 13.8 billion year unfolding of the Universe is all about Incarnation, and God in the world. It’s called the New Cosmology by some, and it might be what you’re referring to as one of the “currents of elites.”
Let me break it down for you. See Pope Francis, we humans are relatively new on the evolutionary scene. We have existed for a mere eye blink. The Universe came into being long before us, and will continue to unfold whatever happens to our branch of life.
Does this take God out of the equation? Hardly. In fact, it makes a Divine presence in all things even more apparent. Consider, as physicist Brian Swimme would say, that the unfolding of the Universe has been precisely balanced from the very beginning. In the millions of years after the Big Bang, when stars and galaxies were forming, the rate at which the Universe expanded was critical. Had it expanded a fraction more slowly, everything would have collapsed back in on itself, unable to overcome gravity. Had it expanded infinitesimally more quickly, the basic building blocks of what would become life would have been blown apart, never to combine. Then consider what had to occur to bring about the planet Earth — the only place in all the Universe, that we know of, capable of supporting life.
That Divine force that kept the Universe from blowing itself apart at the very beginning, and went on to bring life into being on Earth, has been at work for 13.8 billion years. Look at a flower blooming, see a cricket jump, or hear a baby’s laugh — they are all expressions of that Divine creativity. God is truly in all things, not just we humans. Though we often act as if we’re the only expression of the Divine.
Is this pantheism? No. There is one Divine force, one God, at work here, at least in my opinion. When I look in wonder at a tree, and consider all that had to happen over 13.8 billion years to produce that tree in that spot, it only magnifies my sense of Incarnation, of God in the world. But it’s all one God.
Let me put it another way. I’m sure you’re familiar with the writings of your namesake, St. Francis of Assisi. He constantly referred to plants, animals, rocks, and planetary objects as sister or brother. Does that mean he saw multiple gods in Brother Sun and Sister Moon? No, I don’t think so either.
Those who have thought about the New Cosmology and our place in the Universe are not pantheists, either. We identify as Christian, even Catholic. We see God in everything, not gods in everything. For me, this has been a powerful new way of seeing the Divine’s work in creation.
I believe it is through regular spiritual baths in the cosmos that we truly come to connect with Divine Mystery. God is incarnate in all of creation. As Peter Mayer writes in his song “Holy Now”:
“This morning, outside I stood
And saw a little red-winged bird
Shining like a burning bush
Singing like a scripture verse
It made me want to bow my head…
Everything is holy now”
This was the first song I heard that explained the New Cosmology in a way that called to both my mind and spirit. Maybe it might serve the same purpose for you. I’d recommend checking it out on iTunes, Pope Francis.