The Immense Journey of the Universe
We find our global situation fraught with irony. Over the past century, science has begun to weave together the historical story of a cosmos that emerged some 14 billion years ago. The vast complexity of this universe story is beginning to dawn on us. At the same time, we are becoming conscious of the growing environmental crisis and the rapid destruction of species and habitat. We are recognizing just how late is our arrival in this stupendous evolution of the universe – and how quickly we are foreshortening its future flourishing. Living in the midst of an extinction period is one of the greatest challenges for the human spirit.
Clearly the nourishing of human imagination and spirit is at stake. Yet they shrivel with an anguish and confusion that is heart-wrenching to see. The destruction of living forms around us is diminishing our capacity to dream and hope. Without vibrant oceans and rivers, without lush quiet forests, or the movements and sounds of animals about us, we will create a silence – a silence of lament – even larger than the silent spring Rachel Carson predicted. This lament will not end soon, for we are just beginning to write the eulogies and sing the requiems for life that is disappearing. Climate change is increasing this loss.
We are groping, limping, struggling. But in this dark night we seek to return to who we are as children of the Earth – who feel the mysterious rhythms of life in the movement from sunrise to sunset, in the migrating patterns of birds and wild animals, the call of whales in the ocean depths, the change of seasons as the planet finds its way around the sun and back again.
Rediscovering our purpose to enhance life, not destroy it, is crucial. No longer are we citizens of nations alone but of the entire globe. There is no time for wavering. We need to become a beneficial planetary species.
Patience, courage, and endless endurance – with a dash of humor – will steer us through the whirlwind. The lights from the shore are there if we can only come up to the deck and be guided by them. In a dark moonless night this requires a new kind of learning of currents, winds, and stars for navigation. Our Odyssey is at hand.
Chinese Confucian cosmology embeds the human in a series of concentric circles. They range outward from the person, to the family, the educational world, the larger society, the government, then on to nature and the cosmos itself. Humans are urged to see themselves not as isolated but profoundly interrelated. Nature is a dynamic entity with which humans can harmonize their lives.
Over the last two centuries, however, particularly in the West, the scientific paradigm has become dominant. Science tends to objectivize what it describes. Scientific and religious cosmologies have therefore co-existed uneasily. Some scientists and philosophers conclude that the universe is largely a random accretion of matter, with no larger purpose.
However, a more compelling evolutionary account of the universe is entering into human awareness. The opportunity of our time is to narrate this new empirically grounded story in a way that might help humans reorient themselves in the universe. That is, enlist the scientific facts into a larger inquiry about the perennial questions: Where do we come from? Why are we here? How do we belong?
Our interconnected global challenges are calling us to the next stage of evolutionary history. This requires a change of consciousness and values, moving us forward to a collective identity as a species with a common origin story and shared destiny. This is why we were inspired to create the Journey of the Universe multi-media project – an Emmy-awardwinning film, a book, a series of conversations, and online courses. (See journeyoftheuniverse.org.)
We are still discovering our responsibility within the story. This story enhances the uniqueness of each human, deepens the sense of inner subjectivity, and affirms the eros, kinship, and friendship that enliven every life. But the human community has also the capacity now to realize our intrinsic unity amid enormous diversity.
So we have a staggering “great work” now before us, as Thomas Berry suggested, to renew the face of planet Earth. That is what is asked of us now. To renew our wetlands and restore our woodlands. To regenerate fisheries and restore mangroves. To reinhabit cities and countryside in a sustaining way. To participate in healthy cycles of carbon and nitrogen.
We have the opportunity to become worthy of our name homo sapiens sapiens. But we have to earn the name of sapiens – wisdom. Journey of the Universe connects the epic story of evolution with current ecological, economic, and social transformation. The awe and wonder that this great story evokes can be a source of nurturing resilience for the work ahead.