I love a Spanish- American hymn for use in the Eucharist:
Santo, santo, santo
Mi corazón t’adora;
mi corazón te sabe decir:
“Santo eres, Señor ”
Holy, holy, holy, my heart adores you; my heart knows how to tell you,’You are holy, Lord”
I have been arguing in recent blogs, that although the human intelligence is a pointer to its creator, it must not be narrowly conceived as merely mind, but crucially as the heart also, the maker of relationships. For it is through the opening up of individual life to other life that the processes of evolutionary and spiritual growth take place. The creative spirit of God, I have suggested, is to be found at work in what Christianity calls “communion”, that is, in the place where individual identities are joyfully, if painfully, surrendered so that separate existence is fulfilled in “inter-being”, a term borrowed from Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh. This thinking suggests that God’s spirit is present in the processes of evolution, but insists that certain misunderstandings have to be avoided:
- The process of evolution must not be misconceived as a movement upwards from amoeba to Homo sapiens as if the latter were the goal of evolution, which must rather be seen as a growing complexity and flourishing of interdependent beings.
- The processes are rigorous and unforgiving in that species which cannot adapt to changes in their environment will die out. That is a consequence of the fact that the creator has permitted life to be independent of her will, to have the real freedom of its own development from organic matter which remains its source of energy. But the processes themselves are not “red in tooth and claw” as Tennyson suggested. All creatures die anyway. The death of a species is no crueller than the death of a beetle.
- We will remain ignorant of much of the process of evolution until we are able to compare what has happened on this earth with life on other planets in the universe. Recent discoveries of earth-like planets in other star systems may bring nearer the time when we can do this. Dogmatic theologies, rooted in a time when life on this planet was thought to be the only life, will have to repent their certainties and learn to be more humble.
- If God’s spirit is seen as present in evolution it must not be seen only in the the “successes” of evolution but also in its “failures”. Indeed all talk of successes and failures should be abandoned. I recently looked at images of the preserved body of a baby mammoth, a thing of astonishing and moving beauty. Was the mammoth an evolutionary failure? Surely not, but we can imagine the painful process by which mammoths perished in an increasingly hostile environment in which human beings were a new enemy. William Golding in his “The Inheritors” portrayed the pain of Neanderthal people as they were wiped out and superseded by Homo Sapiens. God’s spirit shares the pain as well as the happiness of creatures.
- Human beings are different from all other creatures in the degree of self-determination their intelligence gives them. This means that all other animals are naturally children of the creator, whereas human beings can choose whether to become so or not. Those who close themselves to other life are spiritually dead, while those who open themselves to other life are enlivened by God’s spirit of communion. The ecumenical community which results from this communion includes the natural world and all its creatures, as well as human beings.
- Although the experience of shared life in God’s spirit is free and joyful, wise teachers, who have understood the wisdom of the spirit have given guidance about the kind of behaviours that close people to the spirit, and the kind that open them to it. These wise rules are found in the traditions of the great teachers, like Confucius, The Buddha, Jesus, the Gurus of the Jains and the Sikhs, Mohammed and Gandhi. Rules are not the final stage of spiritual development, but they are a necessary preparation for it.
Some readers will have noticed that I have left unanswered a crucial question:
What do I mean by the spirit’s “presence” in evolutionary or spiritual development?
Is it a force of some kind? A supernatural influence? An unsubstantial gloop that is somehow real?
Somewhere in my writings, ( I can’t find it for the moment!) I described a “house of God” as a being or community of beings from which God is absent as a mother is absent from the womb that contains her child. Remember, this is a metaphor! But:
- The womb and the embryo are within the mother. The universe is within God.
- The mother’s life nourishes the embryo without interfering with it. God nourishes living beings from her own life.
- The mother cannot alter the development of the embryo at will. Nevertheless her health contributes to its health, and its illness will cause suffering to her.
- The life of the embryo is not static, but is developing into a child. The human being open to the spirit is also developing into a child of God.
The inclusive, interdependent, developmental presence of the mother to the embryo is my model for the presence of God’s spirit in the life of the universe. It could be described as purposeful communion.
This is already more than enough. I will continue this exploration on future blogs.