In The Beginning, We Were There

Rethinking Our Place In The Universe

Profile of an African elephant — “Caring For Giants” program — Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Orlando, FL
Nature, psyche, and life appear to me like divinity unfolded — what more could I ask for? — C. G. Jung, from The Earth Has A Soul

I feel so fortunate that optimism and an attitude of gratitude come so naturally for me. I realize this isn’t the case for everyone — the personal struggle to find significance and perspective in this vast Universe can be daunting, to say the least.

I’ve mentioned the words “Spiritual Ecology” previously as an umbrella descriptive for many worldviews that either naturally, or by conscious choice, infuse their spiritual viewpoints with ecological ideals, questions, and ethical values.

And I know that we often ask the existential questions:

Why am I here?

What the hell is all of this?

Does my life even matter?

Does it matter what I do or how I behave?

A curious little human ape at a questioning age — one to whom I happen to be related

I certainly would never presume to answer those questions for another person and I don’t think any religious tradition can do it either. The answers to these are very personal and are going to vary with the diversity of life experience in the Universe.

Even the humans who still believe that we are the “pinnacle” of creation, or that the earth is 5,000 years old, are often holding to belief system that extracts us from the core — as if we are separate and because our experience of time suggests to us that we came later.

There are some, however, who choose to articulate this another way. People like Thomas Berry and Sister Miriam MacGillis might suggest that rather than seeing ourselves as a separate entity, we should consider what we think we know about the beginnings of our Universe.

Santa Rosa Beach, FL — Planet Earth, 2016

Sister Miriam, remarking on the work of mathematical cosmologist Brian Swimme, says that the conditions that led to our known Universe — the elements, the rapid cooling, the expansion, the rate — all had to be just as they were, mathematically speaking, or else the result would have been explosion or implosion.

From the science of this, she chooses to infuse her Christian theology in a way that allows her to live and promote a collective consciousness. She appeals to the rest of us to understand ourselves as having been present all along. The elements that eventually made the stars and the galaxies, eventually became a part of our own bodies.

The universe was a unified whole from the beginning, and we are just a current entity emerging from it, beginning to understand that we are a part of the circle of life, not the plastic statue figure on the top of a cake. If the universe had not been a whole entity expressing and evolving, then we would not have the conditions we now do: billions of galaxies, life in myriad forms, human apes wrestling with the meaning of life…

Western lowland gorilla — critically endangered due to human action and inaction

We are living in a time where the population numbers of our species and our lifestyle choices are a major threat to other lifeforms on this planet, and ultimately of course, to our own species.

It’s hard to imagine how bad this can be for our descendants, because it seems so far away, and it isn’t as pressing as paying the electric bill, in the short-term.

But I’d like to think we can begin to re-imagine our beginnings. We might not recognize the human form in the elements and fog and expansion of the early Universe, but we can come to understand that those very elements are a part of us now.

So in a very real sense, we were there…

In the beginning, the potential for the Universe was there. And it happened. And here we are as one of its many expressions. Our individual lives may seem small and insignificant, but I believe we can see ourselves as a part of something so much greater, and exceedingly significant. We can see ourselves as an expression of The Great All That Is.

How will that help our attitude toward this baby gator?

Well he is a part of The Great All That Is too. And he has just as much right to be here as we do. And his presence here, helps many other beings, to have the opportunity to live. And apparently, that is the way The Great All That Is chose to express itself.

We can come to understand this about many species.

From the Sumatran tiger…

To Brother Wolf…

To Brother Anhinga…

From the tiny creatures…

To those who stand in awe…

To those who resemble us more closely…

To those who have wings…

To the striped…

And to the giants…those I call “The Soul Of The Planet”…

The Universe unfolding in all it’s expressions is remarkable, beautiful, and breath-taking.

We will stand here for but a moment.

And in that time, I hope we can find a way to live our lives as if we understand the significance. We can choose to make it so. We can choose to alter our spiritual traditions to include a cosmology that doesn’t separate us, because the old way of viewing the world is no longer relevant, and is destructive. It’s limited in scope, and we need a paradigm shift.

Please continue to join me in my wildlife and conservation journey! And if you are interested in the writings, talks, and works of Sister Miriam, she is a Catholic nun that you can learn more about here:

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