Have you ever read or listened to someone present a theory, conceptual framework, or some other school of thought for the first time and felt completed disoriented by it on the one hand and at the same time experienced an inner pull of “YES! YES!” on the other hand?
Well that is how I felt the first time I encountered the school of thought referred to as evolutionary spirituality or conscious evolution. I believe it was in 1998 when I discovered the work of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955).
Teilhard de Chardin, a pioneer and primary source of evolutionary spirituality overall, was a philosopher, Jesuit priest, paleontologist and geologist whose theological and philosophical work was way ahead of his time such that his ideas were perceived as a threat to the Catholic establishment. Thus, these writings were suppressed during his lifetime.
The core idea of evolutionary spirituality/conscious evolution is that we live in an unfinished universe and its ongoing development toward Universal Love includes us (the human family) and our willingness to actively participate in the evolution of consciousness in/through our lives lived in the world.
In 1998 and now, this work lights me up—it opens my mind and expands my heart! In fact, whenever I’m in a state of despair, I turn to Teilhard’s work but more often contemporary teachers of evolutionary spirituality such as Barbara Marx Hubbard, Michael Dowd, and Brian Swimme. And, most recently to Franciscan friar, spiritual teacher, and author, Richard Rohr’s book, “Universal Christ.”
Thus, as we approach Christmas 2019, I’d like to highlight a few core ideas from Rohr’s book, offer a brief sample of his supportive teachings then share a few of my reflections.
But before I do, I would like to acknowledge that some of you may have instantaneous aversion to the words, “Christ” and “Jesus”– I get it, trust me. I’m a recovering Protestant. And, if that is true for you, I ask that you please set that aside for five minutes and open your mind and heart to the possibility that Rohr might just have a gift for you.
- Original Goodness, not Original Sin
Rohr: …most of the world’s great religions start with some sense of primal goodness in their creation stories. The Judeo-Christian tradition beautifully succeeded at this, with the Genesis record telling us that God called creation “good” five times in Genesis 1, and even “very good” in 1:31. The initial metaphor for creation was a garden, which is inherently positive, beautiful, growth-oriented, a place to be “cultivated and cared for”, where humans could walk naked and without shame. But after Augustine, most Christian theologies shifted from the positive vision of Genesis 1 to the darker vision of Genesis 3—the so-called fall.
I find Rohr’s teaching on Original Goodness not Original Sin a profound and essential one. From about 2008-2015, I immersed myself in Buddhism and seriously considered taking Buddhist vows. However, I chose not to do so for many reasons which I will not go into here, but I am deeply grateful for those seven years and all the benefits that resulted from that period of my life.
One of the many gifts Buddhism gave to me lies in a core teaching on the fundamental goodness of humanity and all life. I did not realize the stranglehold that the teaching of Original Sin had on my being until I truly received and digested the Buddhist teaching on Basic Goodness.
And this is evidently true for many Westerners who turn to Buddhism as Rohr addresses this topic in this book at greater depth in a section entitled, “Why the Interest in Buddhism?”
Rohr: I am convinced that in many ways Buddhism and Christianity shadow each other. They reveal each other’s blind spots. In general, Western Christians have not done contemplation very well, and Buddhism has not done action very well. Although in recent decades we are seeing the emergence of what is called “Engaged Buddhism.”
and I would add the reemergence of “Contemplative Christianity”
Rohr continues this section emphasizing the importance of both contemplation and action on the spiritual journey. I view this marriage of contemplation and action as an evolutionary imperative of our times– deeply related to the transformational shift to a theology and cosmology of a Cosmic or Universal Christ that includes you and me and ALL life.
- Jesus and Christ are two distinct beings—Jesus the Person AND the Body of Christ.
Rohr: When Christians hear the word “incarnation,” most of us think about the birth of Jesus, who personally demonstrated God’s radical unity with humanity. But in this book, I want to suggest that the first incarnation was the moment described in Genesis 1, when God joined in unity with the physical universe and became the light inside of everything.
The incarnation, then, is not only “God becoming Jesus.” It is a much broader event….Christ that the rest of us continue to encounter in other human beings, a mountain, a blade of grass, or a starling.
When I am graced to see with sacred eyes and orient my being and life from this “everything is holy now” vision, the difference is beyond description. I feel an inner shift from a ho-hum state to a state of aliveness, exuberance and reverence even in the most mundane activities such as walking our dog, Bella.
Thus, as we approach Christmas 2019, the religious holiday commemorating Jesus’s birth, I invite us to consider celebrating our amazing Cosmic Christ. As we do, we may ask ourselves what we, individually and collectively are birthing, in and through the seeds of our thoughts, words, and deeds and then seriously consider how these seeds contribute to a not- yet New Earth of Universal Love.
Peace be unto you. Amen.