Everything is Holy: Scientific Spirituality in Nature, Rev. Arthur G. Severance

Start Date

 I used to love the comic strip, Calvin and Hobbs, named after the   theologian and philosopher, but don�t let that bother you. But I liked   it because it was theological and philosophical as well, of course, as   funny.  In the strip, Calvin was as boy and Hobbs his stuffed Tiger   who became real- but only  in his mind�s eye of course. Chet Raymo   quotes  a strip in his book that I liked:  In the first panel , Calvin   is alone under the night sky. In the second panel, he screams at the   stars, �I�m significant!:� In the third one he seems to be  staring   into the silent spaces. Fourth panel, he describes a  how a chastened   Calvin adds, �Screamed the dust speck.�

   This is significant for a number of reasons. Here is a physics and   astronomy professor writing a book titled ,When God is Gone Everything   is Holy: The Making of a Religious Naturalist, and he�s using a comic   strip as an illustration, but It is a great illustration of that mixed   feeling that we all can identify with when we gaze on the night sky in   , yes even religious awe and wonder of the vastness of the universe   while wondering about our tiny part of it and hoping, demanding that   we are significant in some way? And wondering about the creation as   well as, of course as the creator� How did this all start� And   perhaps- Who�s in charge here� What�s my role� What am I supposed to   do? Who am I? Does God exist? What is Nature?

   I didn�t like science in high school or college. I preferred English   or History because the way they taught science was basically biology   101 and the test was memorizing  things that I didn�t use in many   conversations.  I think I would have liked to have had Chet Raymo for   a professor because I think he taught differently. One of his books,   The Path: A One-Mile Walk Through the Universe, was about his walk to   work through the woods every day for almost 40 years  from his home in   North Easton, MA to  Stonehill College in Easton. I found two videos on UTUBE and   watched them on Friday. I have to confess to envy. my friends, as I   watched him walk out of his victorian home and through the woods over   an old bridge and thought of what an idyllic life it looked like!   Imagine being able to walk to work a mile away and through beautiful   and through beautiful forest by New England river over a wooden bridge   and through meadows!! But imagine writing a whole book about it that   was spiritual and inspring! Even his walk to work was part of his   religious naturalism his scientific spirituality. 

   After he was married and with his Ph.D. in physics he said he   moved to the New England of Emerson and Thoreau to be a �Thoreauvian   sojourner�. Indeed, his seeming Unitarian connections are   overwhelming, though subtle and as we often say, without knowing it!    He comes from a Catholic background graduates from Notre Dame after   all, but is more in the spirit of the Catholic mystics and the many   contemporary Catholic naturalists. He is in the company of those   writers who give a spiritual dimension to science and nature, who keep   the religion in nature as well as science. He talks about the   difficulty of science and religion.

   �The militant atheistic biologist Richard Dawkins, whom I admire for   many things, thinks its a sham for someone of agnostic temperament to   use the language of traditional religion. The word �God,� for   example....

   But there is something called natural religion (or, if you prefer,   religious naturalism) that hides behind and within traditional faiths,   and I am not so ready as Dawkins to surrender a venerable and   evocative language of praise to to traditional theists. I will   continue to pray, if by prayer you understand me to mean attention to   the world.

   Then he quotes Emerson- �Prayer is the contemplation of the facts of   life from the highest point of view� wrote Emerson; �It is the   soliloquy of a beholding and jubilant soul?�    And continues-�And I will try to live- as my Roman Catholic teachers   urged me to live- in a state of grace. Not supernatural grace, to be   sure, but the myriad natural graces that bless and hallow the everyday.�

   What Raymo does is to bring the scientists of the past to the present   to help us to see the spirituality of nature  so that we realize we   are a part of it as well, and that there has always been two kinds of   people, if you will, who look at the world in two kinds of ways. For   Darwin�s contemporaries, �A single explanation sufficed: God did it.�   That wasn�t good enough for Darwin, or for him or for most of us,   either.

   So evolution, you see. For some, all part of God�s design as well   which might include Intelligent Design, but for others, like Raymo and   most scientists, a supreme being named God does not satisfy the   scientific mind, nor does it mine. For millions, if not billions, God   did or does it is sufficient, then plug in your particular religious   belief, and there you have it. But for those of us who no longer   believe in that God, then what� Nothing�

     �I no longer believe in the personal, transcendent God of my   forebears� Raymo writes, �yet I still feel religious, was still   enamored of my Catholic sacramental tradition. I still had no time for    miracles or the supernatural. But the more I learned about the   natural world, the more I stood in awe of its �inscape�. I longed to   give praise and thanksgiving. And to pray. �I don�t know exactly what   a prayer is,� says Mary Oliver in a poem, �I do know how to pay   attention.� I pay attention. With other s of a scientific temperament,   I read the Book of Nature. Now in the eight decade of my life, I am   cautiously willing to use the G-word for the mystery I found there,   and unembarrassed to use the word �prayer� for attending with   reverence to what I see? 

   He talked about a dinner one evening when the family were discussing   why scientists seemed so much less likely than the general population   to believe in God. According to  most polls, about nine out of ten   Americans  say they  believe in God while  among the members of   the American Academy of Scientists, that ratio is reversed. They   wondered why.
   �My daughter�s husband posited, only half in jest, �Overweening hubris?�
   We laughed. Well, yes, there could be some of that.
   My daughter then wondered, �what does ween mean?�
   And although we had heard or used the expression �overweening hubris�   all our lives, we didn�t know.
   So the dictionary. Ween:V. tr. archaic, be of the opinion, to suppose.
Overweening them means to be arrogantly of the opinion, overconfident   in one�s suppositions. Overweening hubris is redundant, but a grand   phrase nevertheless�

   Sounds like he might be talking about us UU�s doesn�t it? So even   scientists, you see, can be overconfident and opinionated when they   think they are being factual and objective! Raymo keeps his humility.   I have observed how sometimes people who criticize religion as being   overzealous and fundamentalist seem to come off sounding that way   themselves!

   Raymo writes: "I have given up the certainty that I know the Truth.    I no longer believe that Christians are any closer to God than   right-living people of any other faith.  Faith no longer matters to me   so much as attention, wonder, celebration, praise" (p. 4).  In his   eighth decade, what is his personal Credo? "I am an atheist, if by God   one means a transcendent Person who acts willfully within the   creation.  I am an agnostic in that I believe our knowledge of 'what   is' is partial and tentative -- a tiny flickering flame in the   overwhelming shadows of our ignorance.  I am a pantheist in that I   believe empirical knowledge of the sensate world is the surest   revelation of whatever is worth being called divine.�

   He is a mystic in that he worships the mystery and feels connected to   the oneness and also, and here is the most important part, I believe,   gives it a value of inspiration, you see. Science never inspired me!    Those early Unitarian Transcendentalists Emerson and Thoraeau saw   spirituality in Nature and today there are more and more religious   naturalists inspiring us with their writings, like Annie Dillard,   Ursal Good enough, Thomas Berry, and so many others  maybe starting   with Rachel Carson and igniting the environmental movement. So he is   also a prophet.

   "The universe is a unity,� he writes,� -- an interacting, evolving,   and genetically-related community   of beings bound together   inseparably in space and time.  Our responsibilities to each other and   to all of creation are implicit in this unity.  Each of us is   profoundly implicated in the functioning and fate of every other being   on the planet, and ultimately, perhaps, throughout the universe" (p.   98).

   You see, here�s one of the differences between whether it�s up to us   or up to God. If God is controlling everything, then it�s neither my   fault nor my responsibility to do anything about the environment. But   if there is no God as in Supreme Being that pulls the puppet strings   nd there�s only us as part of the interrelatedness, then I better do   my part! I also want to to be able to see my part in the universe as   significant  as well.

   He quotes Biologist  E.O WIlson�s book, Consilience: �The spirits our   ancestors knew intimately first fled the rocks and trees, then the   distant mountains. Now they are in the stars, where their final   extinction is possible. But we cannot live without them. People need a   sacred narrative.�

    Then he says, �Can such a narrative be found, one that is not in   conflict with science. ...THe truly evolutionary epic, retold as   poetry, is as intrinsically ennobling as any religious epic, he says.   And religious naturalist agree.�

   Last week when I read Emerson's great words on the Divinity school   address of 1838, he was already saying somewhat similar in talking   about traditional religion already losing the interest of many people,   especially Unitarians and that Nature herself was miracle with no need   for supernaturalism! Yet Emerson was not doing away with God as such,   nor do I want to either in what I describe n my credo as mystical   humanism or on some days as naturalistic theism or yes what I might   also describe myself as a religious naturalist. Like Raymo, I retain   that �itch for God,� that desire for the spiritual, though no desire   for the traditional creeds or beliefs.

     Yet, I know that some still believe, both in our midst and in more   traditional places and that�s OK. It�s not that they are wrong and I   am right or even the other way around.  Raymo says: �As I write, two   books that do their best to reduce God Ad  absurdum are being talked   about everywhere: Richard Dawkins The God Delusion and Sam Harris�s   The End of Faith. The authors go at religion like B-movie slashers   armed with Ockham�s razor, and by the time they are finished there is   not much left but the gory shreds of miracles and superstitions. I   enjoyed bother performances. God  had it coming. But I won�t go where   Dawkins and Harris would like to take me. SOmething is amiss with   their militant, slash and burn, atheism. If I can switch metaphors-and   turn the new one on its ear- Dawkins and Harris throw out the bath   water with the baby.

   In my inverted clich let the �bath-water stand for the   mind-stretching, jaw-dropping, in-your-face wonder of the universe   itself, the Heraclitean mystery that hides in every rainbow, every   snowflake, every living cell. After all, water, as much as anything in   our environment, is an adequate symbol for the creative agency that   forges atoms in the hot interior of stars, weds oxygen to hydrogen,   and wets the earth with the stuff of life and consciousness- an agency   worthy of  attention, reverence, thanksgiving,  praise.?

   Yea, even water itself is holy! Even water itself is not so simple,   but the very essence of life. Maybe water is God! Think of the sea   teeming with life, think of the rain,  of the Great Lakes, the rivers   and the streams, even the water that makes up most of our   bodies...Again it is drawing attention and a religious dimension to   even the most seemingly mundane that makes everything holy. Is he not   perhaps a priest as well inspiring us to religious devotion of earth   and air fire and water� Of all life upon this planet� To wonder at  it   all and not take it for granted� One of Buddha�s famous most sermons   was simply holding up a flower. No words, Just holding up a flower.   Was he the first religious naturalist? You either got it or you   didn�t. It was not 20 minutes and there were no hymns!

   �Since Galileo,� Raymo so spiritually observes, �we  understand   ourselves to be part of an endlessly fructifying tapestry of mutual   relaltionship and self imposed responsibility, rather than a chain of   subservience and domination. We are animals who have evolved the   capacity to cherish our fellow humans and to resist for the common   good our innate tendencies to aggression and selfishness, not because   we have been plucked out of our animal selves by some sky hook from   above, but because we have been nudged into reflective consciousness   by evolution.�

   Yes,�part of an endlessly fructifying tapestry of mutual   relationship,� how about that for another way of saying interdependent   web of life? And for social justice -�evolved the capacity to cherish   our fellow humans and to resist for the common good our innate   tendencies to aggression and selfishness?� A moral sense in nature   without need for supernatural God. and also that we have been �nudged   into reflective consciousness by evolution.� Is that not holy? He goes on to sound even more Unitarian Universalist while also   challenging us to become more like Chet Raymo�s description:

   �Any religion worthy of humankind�s future will have these   characteristics: -It will be ecumenical. It will not imagine itself   �truer� than other religions. It will be open and welcoming to best   and holiest of all faith traditions.

   -It will be ecological. It will take the planet and all of its   creatures into its commandment of love.

   _It will embrace the scientific story of the wold as the most   reliable cosmology, not necessarily true,but truer than the neolithic   alternatives that currently give shape to the world�s theologies. It   will look for the signature of the divinity in the extravagant wonder   of the creation itself, not in supposed miracles or exceptions to   nature�s laws.�

   If there is a limitation to Raymo�s writings, it it is that they   don�t encourage us to gather in religious community to read them   tougher as inspiration to then go out in nature as well, a both and   religion of inside and outside rather than either/or. Like Emerson was   saying of trying to breath new life into the church rather than   creating a brand new form.  Celebrating religious naturalism in a   worship service WITH hymns and minister and congregation and church   building, but also looking out windows into world and beauty and   nature and appreciating the outside as well!

   �Although scientists as a group are much less likely to believe in   God and the supernatural than the general population,� Raymo writes,   �in my experience, they are no less �spiritual.� Microbiologist Ursula   Good enough, for example is not a theist, but considers herself deeply   religious.�

   Interestingly enough she was the theme speaker a the Mountain Desert   District Annual Meeting 2 years ago in Denver when I was the interim   minister in Boulder, where she talked about being a religious   naturalist.

   He goes on to quote from her book:  �In her wonderful book, The   Sacred Depths of Nature, she reminds us that the word religion derives   from the Latin relgio, to bind together again. She writes: �We have    throughout the ages sought connection with higher powers in the sky or   beneath the earth, or with the ancestors living in some other realm.   We have also sought, and found, religious fellowship, with one   another. And now we realize that we are connected to all creatures.   Not just in food chains or ecological equilibria. We share a common   ancestor...We share evolutionary constraints and possibilities. We are   connected all the way down.�

   It is that sacred connection of oneness that the mystics of all   religions of all times tell us about in all the holy books that are   beyond God and gods, or perhaps might even be the gods and/or God if   we looked at it in another way.

   "The universe,� Raymo writes, � is a unity -- an interacting,   evolving, and genetically-related community of beings bound together   inseparably in space and time.  Our responsibilities to each other and   to all of creation are implicit in this unity.  Each of us is   profoundly implicated in the functioning and fate of every other being   on the planet, and ultimately, perhaps, throughout the universe."

   Now that sounds more like what I think scripture should sound like   for the 21st century; is it not holy? And are we not holy? And is not   all life holy that we should love one another and live our lives fully   and with great pleasure, yet with the knowledge that we are   responsible as well for loving and helping our neighbor. Pay attention   to life and to love and to the beauty and wonder of nature. Love life.

We live, as Raymo says, �in part of an endlessly fructifying tapestry   of mutual relationship;� may we live as if everything is holy now!

Amen, Peace, Shalom, (Peace in Hebrew), Assalaamu Alaikum(may Peace be   upon you in Arabic), Abrazos a todos (Hugs all around) Namaste, (A   Hindu greeting the divinity within you) Blessed Be, and let me add one   more blessing that I adapdted from the Spanish long before I went in   to ministry. �Vaya con Dios� is SPanish for Good-bye, but literally is   �Go with God,� SO I adapted it to say �Vaya Con Su Dios, �Go with your   idea or interpretation of God.�

Peace,Love, Shalom, Salaam, Blessed Be, Namaste, Abrazo a Todos, Vaya con su Dios,

   �Science Musings Blog�
Chet raymo
Sunday, April 23, 2006

When God is gone, everything is holy

In a posting a week or so ago, I stated that the central contribution   of 20th-century science was the shattering of absolutes. There is a   corollary: The importance of everything.

Once we reject the absolute truth of one thing, whatever it might be   -- God, a holy book, a law of nature -- then everything, even the   smallest element of reality -- an insect, a leaf, a grain of sand --   becomes infinitely interesting.

If one wanted to describe this in religious terms, it would go   something like this: The absence of God makes everything holy.

But why use religious language .... We are -- for better or worse --   religious by nature. Whether by genes or from thousands of years of   encounter with the world in wakefulness and dream we have a felt   attraction to the suprasensual. We need not apologize for this. The   suprasensual does not imply supernatural. The boundary between the   mind and the world is infinitely fuzzy, and we are far from   understanding the nature of consciousness. Nevertheless, we feel, with   Newton, like children playing with pretty stones on the shore of a   limitless sea. Any language that gives expression to our transsensual   intuitions is religious.

But let me say clearly: All gods are idolatrous, especially any god we   personify with a capital G. The great service to humanity of science   has been to sweep the anthropomorphic gods away, or, at the very   least, to show them for what they are, phantoms of the human brain.   What we are given in their place is not Truth, but reliable empirical   knowledge of the world, tentative and evolving.

When the slate of superstition has been wiped clean, what are we left   with� Silence� Yes, there is something to be said for silence, for   retreating into what Thomas Merton called "the prayer of the heart."   The Greek writer Nikos Kazantzakis in his Spiritual Exercises writes   of the thing that he --- hesitantly -- calls Spirit: "We struggle to   make this Spirit visible, to give it a face, to encase it in words, in   allegories and thoughts and incantations, that it may not escape us.   But it cannot be contained in the twenty-six letters of an alphabet   which we string out in rows; we know that all these words, these   allegories, these thoughts, and these incantations are, once more, but   a new mask with which to conceal the Abyss."

He writes: "We have seen the highest circle of spiraling powers. We   have named this circle God. We might have given it any other name we   wished: Abyss, Mystery, Absolute Darkness, Absolute Light, Matter,   Spirit, Ultimate Hope, Ultimate Despair, Silence. But we have named it   God because only this name, for primordial reasons, can stir our   hearts profoundly. And this deeply felt emotion is indispensable if we   are to touch, body with body, the dread essence beyond logic."

One might reasonably take issue with Kazantzakis. The word God is so   burdened with idolatrous baggage that its usefulness is compromised   for the scientific skeptic. Better, say, to adopt Rudolf Otto's   "mysterium tremendum et fascinans," or Kazantzakis' own "dread essence   beyond logic." But then, in the end, is any formulation of the   transsensual less idolatrous than another?

Let it only be said that the world is shot through with a mystery that   manifests itself no less in what is revealed by science -- the   universe of the galaxies and the eons, the eternally weaving DNA, the   electrochemical flickering which is consciousness -- than in the   creations of poets, visual artists and musicians.

So we stumble forward, trying to avoid the dogmas of blind faith or   scientism, We try to make ourselves worthy of the universe of which we   are an infinitesimal part. We will not all agree on what worthiness   consists of. For me, it is a mix of skepticism and celebration.

Kazantzakis, in the Spiritual Exercises, lodges his Ultimate Concern   in the human heart.

    A command rings out within me: "Dig! What do you see?"
    "Men and birds, water and stones."
    "Dig deeper! What do you see?"
    "Ideas and dreams, fantasies and lightning flashes!"
    "Dig deeper! What do you see?"
    "I see nothing! A mute Night, as thick as death. It must be death."
    "Dig deeper!"
    "Ah! I cannot penetrate the dark partition! I hear voices and   weeping. I hear the fluttering of wings on the other shore."
    "Don't weep! Don't weep! They are not on the other shore. The   voices, the weeping, and the wings are your own heart."

So this would be my creed: Strive for reliable knowledge of the world,   which I take to be the tentative consensus knowledge of the scientific   community. Distrust those who offer absolutes. Listen to poets. And   pay attention, even to the least of things -- for everything is   interesting.
The Meditation that Wasn�t......
This was the song that was supposed to be played during the meditation   that I skipped. It was played during coffee hour, but couldn�t be   fully appreciated. I�ll play it again. I really love this song and am   sure that Chet Raymo must have heard it since the title seems so   relevant!

Holy Now                            Peter Mayer
When I was a boy, each week
On Sunday, we would go to church
And pay attention to the priest
He would read the holy word
And consecrate the holy bread
And everyone would kneel and bow
Today the only difference is
Everything is holy now
Everything, everything
Everything is holy now

When I was in Sunday school
We would learn about the time
Moses split the sea in two
Jesus made the water wine
And I remember feeling sad
That miracles don�t happen still
But now I can�t keep track
�Cause everything�s a miracle
Everything, Everything
Everything�s a miracle

Wine from water is not so small
But an even better magic trick
Is that anything is here at all
So the challenging thing becomes
Not to look for miracles
But finding where there isn�t one

When holy water was rare at best
It barely wet my fingertips
But now I have to hold my breath
Like I�m swimming in a sea of it
It used to be a world half there
Heaven�s second rate hand-me-down
But I walk it with a reverent air
�Cause everything is holy now
Everything, everything
Everything is holy now

Read a questioning child�s face
And say it�s not a testament
That�d be very hard to say
See another new morning come
And say it�s not a sacrament
I tell you that it can�t be done

This morning, outside I stood
And saw a little red-winged bird
Shining like a burning bush
Singing like a scripture verse
It made me want to bow my head
I remember when church let out
How things have changed since then
Everything is holy now
It used to be a world half-there
Heaven�s second rate hand-me-down
But I walk it with a reverent air
�Cause everything is holy now

Event type
Worship Service