It is here. The time of darkness. Not just the time of year, but the coming Dark Age predicted by many scholars as the Modern Era slowly decays. As we witness the apocalyptic fires in Australia consume so many ecosystems and animals along with humans and their belongings, we recognize it as part of the intensifying patterns of violent storms, fires, and floods around the globe.
Many scholars call this The Great Transition or The Great Turning. Even though we are clearly moving into a new era, the name and shape of this era is unknown. This is partly because we do not know how well humans are going to respond over the next critical ten years. So far, the dithering of global politicians, still in the old mindset of protecting multiple national and corporate self-interests,have prevailed. The time has passed where we could have averted this Dark Age. The question will be how deep the Dark Age is. Scholars are predicting at least two generations of Earth-based turbulence and social conflict over shrinking resources. Young people (and us) are right to be protesting on the streets; it is their generation and at least one beyond that will be living through the worst of it.
However, there is much that can be done to avert the worst, particularly learning human relation and conflict transformation skills. More so, it is shifting our way of knowing and being toward relationality with all living beings. It is learning to hold despair, grief, fear and anxiety in equal measure to the empowering practice of hope. So, just as important as all the protest movements and technological innovations, is a spirituality of sustainability. A spirituality of hope. A spirituality that can nurture life-giving cultures once again.
Spirituality is NOT religion. Rather it is two elements: the experience of the sacred and the human search for deep meaning. In fact, one theologian suggests that formal religion has only been around for 5% of human history. A cosmologist explains that the longest era of human spirituality was the tribal/shamanic, which gave way to the formal Great Religions, and then to the modern scientific-technological story. This last story has left us bereft of any meaningful cosmological story. The signs of this state of alienation are all around us.
The deep winter is the time of storytelling. Tribal stories have traditionally conveyed how we fit into the cosmos, the meaning of the particular place we inhabit, and learnings of past ancestors. Most important for us, they create an ethical framework that provides a compass for living AND restricts certain human activities. Often these stories were enacted through ritual and ceremony, which also needs renewal for the coming times.
With atomic physics, living systems theory, and many other trajectories in the New Science, a new cosmological story is developing. This is a Big Story. It is a story that is common to all of humanity. It can be one of the stories we tell and retell our families, especially children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren, to help shift the understanding of the human place in the cosmos.
In their brilliance, mathematical cosmologist Brian Swimme and cultural historical Thomas Berry have merged science and spirituality to give voice to this new story. They call it The Universe Story. Others call it The Cosmic Story. It should be a story that we memorize and tell regularly, through these dark days.
(The following is an abbreviated version of the Universe Story. I will post the full version in the Resources section of my website.)
The Universe Story – Our Story
This is the cosmic story of our origins. Every thing that exists in the universe came from a common origin. Our ancestry stretches back through all humans, all life forms, back through the stars, to the primeval fireball. Science and the wisdom traditions are now converging and can direct us anew in understanding the great mystery of our cosmos. This story can help place us as an Earth member, awaken us to a planetary dimension, and help forge our future as a respectful, responsible species.
In the beginning was no-thing-ness, the void, emptiness. Out of this infinite mystery, power burst forth into the dance that would become the universe. All the energy that would ever exist in the entire course of time erupted as a singular gift – existence. Being. Matter. All things had their birth in this great moment. It was the dawn of time and space.
15 Billion Years Ago: The Primal Flaring Forth In a great flash, the universe flared forth into being. All things had their birth in this great moment. This unimaginable eruption of intense energy and light occurred some fifteen billion years ago. As it continues to expand out, it is still part of every moment of the universe, past, present, and to come.
14 Billion Years Ago: The Primal Stars and Galaxies are Formed
In the depths of its silence, the universe shuddered with the immense creativity necessary to fashion the galaxies—one hundred billion galaxies in all, including our own Milky Way.
5 Billion Years Ago: The Mother Star of our Galaxy goes Supernova
The most brilliant stars rushed through natural transformations, exploding in colossal supernovas and spewing stellar materials throughout the galaxy. New elements were created – carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, calcium and all the other 100 elements. Our mother star Tiamat emerged in our spiral galaxy, but in a supernova explosion, showered our galaxy with all the riches that would become the seeds for the unfolding of our solar system.
Everything that constitutes our world, was birthed from the elements of this star which in turn arose from the primal “cosmic egg” of creation. Everything has been radically “kin” from the very beginning.
4.5 Billion Years Ago: Our Solar System is Born
The universe, insisting upon diversity, brought forth our own star, the Sun. Once given existence, the Sun spun into being the planets of our solar system community: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto. It is unlike any other universe that we know. A family of planets and moons of exquisite beauty, jewels in the evening sky, woven together in relationship to the Sun, whose energy source continues to radiate through the solar system.
4.45 Billion Years Ago: The Earth Cools, Land and Oceans Form
The early planets boiled as molten and gaseous materials. Only Earth cooled and alone generated the countless miraculous conditions for solids, liquids, and gases to exist. The only planet with the proper size enabling gravitational and electromagnetic balance. The only planet positioned in relation to the Sun that established a temperature range where complex molecules could be formed. This Earth develops into land and oceans, creating an incredibly creative chemical womb out of which future life could emerge.
4 Billion Years Ago: Simple Cells Emerge, Life on Earth Awakens
The early Earth was plagued with collisions of meteors and severe electrical activity that charged the Earth’s chemical matter with new possibilities. Out of this seeming chaos, elements organized themselves into meaningful patterns. Out of the cauldron of the Earth’s oceans, the simplest of cells emerged, bringing the adventure of the universe to new levels of possibility. Life on Earth awakens.
3.9 Billion Years Ago: Cells develop Photosynthesis
These cells undertook a dramatic innovation. With the advent of photosynthesis, life on Earth flourishes.
2.3 Billion Years Ago: First Ice Age
The first of the great ice ages begins, taking many species in their wake, but giving new shape to the landscape.
2 Billion Years Ago: Cells can Respire; Earth’s Atmosphere Created
The climate on Earth begins to warm as the glaciers recede. The early cells evolve to a simple stage of respiration, producing the atmospheric oxygen on which we now depend.
1 Billion Years Ago: Simple Cells begin Sexual Reproduction
Single-celled life began the process of sexual reproduction, resulting in the sharing of genetic material that produces greater diversity and enormous potential for an increasingly complex flow of life.
700 Million Years Ago: Cambrian Explosion, First Multicellular Organisms Emerge