Be Opened: A Post-Easter Reflection

Column by Rev. Matthew Syrdal on 5 May 2022 0 Comments

I walked out of our church in ritual silence with the procession at twilight and was met—stunned—by the radiant face of the nearly full moon. I started to weep. Especially tired this particular Maundy Thursday, I was hit by the welling up of unprocessed emotion from a particularly hard year.

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As one who understands the place of The "Big Bang" in evolutionary theory, I'd like to ponder the thought of whether God preceded or followed the "Big Bang?  Which likely came first and created the other?  Could it not be that God and the spiritual world developed as some part of the evolution of life itself?


Dear Hal,

Thank you for your provocative question.  I think it is a real plus that we are again asking questions about the universe.  (And not just about our egos, “I think and therefore I am.”) As Howard Thurman says, “Contemplation concerning origins is a part of the curiosity of the race.”

The fact that you and I and many others today are curious about cosmology is important.  “Awe begins with wisdom,” says Rabbi Heschel, and he defines awe as “the human mind confronting the universe.”  It is time for our species to move on from our narcissism (Pope Francis’s apt word) to fit again into the universe (and therefore the earth because “ecology is functional cosmology” as Tom Berry insists).  Thereby do we recover a sense of the sacred as Berry insists.

And Teilhard de Chardin warned us, “because it is not exalted by a sufficiently passionate admiration of the universe, our religion is becoming enfeebled.”

Aquinas insists, “we do not know what God is.  Only what God is not.” This path of the apophatic Divinity that “has no name and will never be given a name” (Meister Eckhart) recognizes Divinity as mystery behind the mysteries of the Universe.

It is surely time for deconstructing our God-talk (Eckhart: “I pray God to rid me of God”) and reconstructing it.  I was deeply struck several years ago to read in Aquinas that “every being is a name for God and no being is a name for God.”  Brian Swimme, the cosmologist, told me it “took the top of his head off” just to hear that.

Based on that invitation from Aquinas, I wrote a short book on Naming the Unnameable: 89 Wonderful and Useful Names for GodIncluding the Unnameable God and drew from scientists and others.  Included were names like Life, Flow, Mind of the Universe (Erich Jantsch), Planetary Mind, Justice, Compassion, Energy, Joy, Love, Wisdom, Mother, the Black Madonna, Consciousness, and much more.  In my first book, written 51 years ago, I defined prayer as a “radical response to Life.”  Life still works for me as an understanding of Divinity and it opens the door to both our deep response of Yes (which, as William James says, is our mystical faculty) and our No (which is our prophetic calling).  Aquinas: “God is Life, per se Life.”  Christ: “I have come that you may have life and life in abundance.”

I think there is a danger in the West, especially for those out of touch with the mystical tradition and the apophatic tradition, to overly personalize Divinity whereas sometimes the East under personalized Divinity.  I think a dance between the impersonal and personal is advisable.

To me Divinity as consciousness works and seeing the universe as an extension of the divine consciousness holds considerable appeal.  I am more at home with Consciousness birthing the “big bang” (which was in fact a big silence) than following on it.

I think it is significant too that even Genesis 1, when it says, “let there be light,” is NOT talking about the sun.  The sun came later in that creation story as it does in our current scientific creation story.  Much later.  So there is light without the sun--many kinds of light.  Might it include radiation and the fireball and even the light of consciousness?

~ Rev. Dr. Matthew Fox




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