The New Cosmology

Sister Ann Itotia, a Mercy Sister, who lectures in Tangaza University.  She had been on the leadership teams of the Mercy Sisters in Africa.  Since 2008, she has been teaching creation spirituality.

She talked about the unfolding story of love and the meaning of love.  She stressed the interconnectedness of all life and the importance of coming home to the cosmos opens us to diversity of creation in relation to faith, science and praxis.

She introduced the story of Moses and its symbolism enables us to reflect on the journeys that we make in order to become fully who we are and for whom that we are.

Sister Ann explained how a worldview is a framework of ideas and attitudes about the world, ourselves and life. It is a system of beliefs that provides answers to fundamental questions and especially to the question, ‘Who am I?’

In the second session, Sister Ann pointed out the difference between the traditional worldview with its emphasis on separate consciousness and dualism, and the idea of non-dualistic consciousness.

In the afternoon, Tony invited the Brothers to harvest the learnings of the previous sessions and asked what was holding the Brothers’ attention, what was challenging them and how they were integrating this cosmic journey and spirituality into their lives.

The Unfolding Story of Love: Coming Home to the Cosmos

 

 

 

Tony Hempenstall, a Christian Brother from Australia, and Sister Alba Rodrigues, a Presentation Sister from India opened the workshop on the New Cosmology.

Tony stressed at the outset that this workshop is all about compassion and love and that this aspect of life lies at the very heart of God’s creative power. Creation fosters within us both awe and responsibility and the story of the universe is our story, a new story that has emerged from the discovery of the origins of life.  We are part of the 13-billion-year journey and we are invited to open our eyes to the wonder of this creation.

Tony went on to share the life and spirit of Thomas Berry, a geologian, who devoted his life to share his vision of the universe and whose Great Work expresses his belief in a new story.

Tony then stressed the importance of story for us to understand our vision of God, of human life and how we fit into the universe. He said that all cultures have their story which seeks to explain our identity and give us a new perspective on life.  Tony explained that every culture needs a great story and for us now cosmology provides the framework with which a culture can create a Big Story to address the big questions. A cosmology will retain the confidence of the society that generated it as long as it provides convincing answers to these vital questions.

Tony explained how the old cosmology of the Church placed the Church at the centre of society.  The Church was the sole interpreter of Scripture.  The Church was seen as the only avenue for salvation.  These aspects of the Church need to change in the light of new discoveries of science.

Tony also presented the Egyptian cosmology, showing how they understood the relationship between humankind and the divinity.  He went on to say how this cosmology no longer holds weight since science has shown how very different the relationship between life in the universe and ourselves.

A Day’s Outing

During the Orientation Programme there are moments when the Brothers take a break from the intensity of the programme.  This was such a day.  Having spent the last five days discussing such weighty matters such as Church, Jesus and God, the Brothers went to Karura Forest.

Karura Forest is 1,041 ha (2,570 acre) consisting of three parts separated by Limuru and Kiambu roads. The forest is home to some 200 species of bird as well as suni, Harveys Duiker, bushbucks, bush pigs, genets, civets, honey badgers, bush babies, porcupines, Syke’s monkeys, bush squirrels, hares, fruit bats,and various reptiles and butterflies. Karura now has over 50 km of trails for visitors to walk, run or bike.

In the late 90’s there were housing projects that would have excised portions of the forest. Conservationists, led by Wangari Maathai, the leader of Green Belt Movement who later became a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, carried out a much publicised campaign for saving the forest. Karura Forest became also a symbol of controversial land grabbings in Kenya.

The Brothers did a 10km walk through part of the forest and then had a picnic before returning back to the centre.

A Day for Harvesting

The day began with the beginnings of celebrations for the birthday of Bruce.  The morning prayer focused on life, love and being to emphasise the gift of Bruce to the community, and to underline the importance of these three qualities for the life of all beings and that of the planet.

Philip invited the Brothers to spend the day in reflective reading of key texts on the person of Jesus and the new understanding of the universe and of the Church.

The Brothers spent most of the time in personal reflection and then joined with one other to share the fruits of their reading.

Later the Brothers formed community groups to once more share what they had learnt over the period of the day.

Finally, the Brothers gathered in the large group where each brought a symbol of their individual and group reflections.  This was a very significant moment of group exploration of the week’s workshop by Philip.

 

 

Jesus

Philip began the day focusing on the person of Jesus.  He pointed out that the Scriptures can be used to justify what we want to hold dear and in so doing we can create an image of Jesus that we feel comfortable with.  He showed how many social evils (slavery and persecution) have used the name of Jesus to justify such injustice.  Therefore, we need to get in touch with the original message of Jesus that somehow has been lost in the events of history.

Philip quoted from Pope Francis who used the image of Jesus knocking at the door. Was he inside, knocking to get out, to get out of the confining practices and beliefs that have prevented the good news from flourishing?  We are being called to keep the fire of Jesus alive in our hearts so that the fire keeps burning.  So, the key question is what will renew my soul? How do I share the vision that will sustain people as they move through life?  We cannot share the vision, however, if we do not have the vision ourselves.  If we are not feeding our souls, how can we feed others?

Philip then asked the group what was the traditional understanding of Jesus that they grew up with?  He then asked what the group would say about the dream of Jesus and the reign of God? Philip then stressed that there was no self-seeking in the message of Jesus, whereas he said that often there is much self-seeking in the way the reign of God is proclaimed.  Philip also asked if our understanding of Jesus had developed over the years?

Philip then outlined how the human Jesus became a spiritual, non-material reality which stressed his divinity and underplayed his humanity.  He said that often we put theological language on the identity  of Jesus and in so doing we lose the real  person of Jesus.  We need to rediscover this person and recognise those areas of my life which are empty of God.  The life of Jesus showed how a life full of God looked like. The experience of the early disciples was that they recognised in the person of Jesus the fullest revelation of God.  But they did not worship him; they did not just admire him.  They followed him.  They left behind their nets, and committed their lives to him.

Today, we are in danger of adoring a glorified Jesus and forgetting to follow him!  Following Jesus brings us to a new understanding of God.  Jesus did not come to change the mind of God about humanity.  Jesus came to change the mind of humanity about God.  And it is this message of Jesus that we need to embrace.  We need to come to an adult understanding of our faith.  And in doing this we come to a new consciousness of God’s love.  God becomes visible in the human face of Jesus.  Jesus’ message was that we are not separate from God.  In his outreach to those at the margins of society, he showed how they were not separate from God even though they were being outcast from the creeds and practices of  Jewish orthodoxy.

 

 

 

 

 

The Exile

Philip took the image of the exile, to show how we are being challenged to move away from beliefs that we grew up and which no longer help us.  He asked ‘What happens when the beliefs and customs of a person no longer sustains the person in a time of transition?  He outlined the history of the Jewish people and explained how Jerusalem was the Jewish fortress where they felt secure.  But eventually Jerusalem fell and the security was lost.  The exile in Babylon points to the loss of security and the end of their practice of worship.  They had, therefore, to come to a new understanding of their God.  No longer could they believe in the God they had worshipped.

So, for us today, we are being called to come to a new understanding of God and to leave behind beliefs that no longer have relevance. Now we are discovering the New Universe story to come to understand that God is everywhere and not confined to the presence of God within an institutional church.

The Universe story emphasizes the fact that there is no separation and that God is within us and around us. The world, therefore, is our agenda.  The great temptation in the time of transition is go long for the ‘fleshpots of Egypt’. Many wish for the certainty of the past. But the past is over!  We are now being called to change our way of thinking.

Philip then went on to talk about the Kingdom of Heaven. He stressed that the kingdom of heaven is within us. Jesus did not bring the kingdom of God, but rather it was the kingdom of God that brought Jesus. And Jesus called people to follow him.

He said that there is a great difference between an admirer or Jesus and a follower of Jesus.  Those who embrace the kingdom of God are the followers of Jesus.  These are the people who take Jesus seriously. This will of necessity entail being opposed and the people who will be the first to oppose the followers are the admirers. The people who opposed Jesus were the official priests of the day.

 

 

The Church

Philip continued his workshop, taking the theme of the Church.  He pointed out that the function of the Church is to help us live the vision of Jesus. Sadly, he said, the Church no longer fulfils this function, and has often become an obstacle to living this vision. Scandals and preoccupation with rubrics and laws have robbed the Church of its integrity.   Jesus, the man, showed that there was another way of being in the world, challenging the orthodoxy of his time. We are called to go to the heart of what the Church was meant to me.

So many people have moved away from the Church because they no longer find in the Church the Good News. People need to understand that salvation is not about the next world, but about this world, about the current reality.

Jesus was attempting to help the people to think differently, and we are also invited to think differently.  We have lost our bearings with the meaning of life, and we need to rediscover the message of Jesus.

Philip went on to stress that Jesus was not interested in a new religion or in a new priesthood.  He was in constant conflict with the Jewish priesthood and certainly did not want to create a new priesthood.

The establishment of the Church was a later expression, and was set up to keep alive the dangerous memory of Jesus.  Unfortunately, the Church forgot to focus on the poor and to continue to threaten the worldview of the Roman empire.  Instead, it began to identify with the ruling classes.  The Gospel is good news when seen through the eyes of the poor and it is bad news when seen through the eyes of the rich.

A Contemporary Understanding of Jesus and Religious Life

Today, we began a five-day workshop to be given by Philip Pinto, former Congregation Leader of the Christian Brothers. The theme of the workshop is:  A Contemporary Understanding of Jesus and Religious Life.  Some of the ideas that Philip shared on the first day of the workshop.

The essence of being Brother is sharing spirituality.  Mission is sharing spirituality.  Philip addressed the Brothers and shared with them his own journey in his understanding of God, Jesus and religious life.  The search for God and the spiritual journey is a search that is present in the whole world. The church that we know is over.  There is need for a new church, a new understanding of God and how do we express this new understanding of God.  This is the Jesus story.

Philip asked a key question:  Am I praying? Am I in relationship in God?  What way do we pray?  And what is our understanding of the mystery we call God?  Do we take shelter in a silent obscurity or can we listen to new melodies break from the heart and where the old tracks are lost and a new country is revealed?

Philip stressed that the core of our life is our deep need for meaning.  Only when we focus on our deep wound and our deep hope that we begin to touch the deep mystery of God.  It is in the moments of chaos that the Spirit can begin to speak to us, unleashing all the creative forces within us.

We need to pay attention to the vulnerability that is within us,  and to seek the healing that comes from sharing this vulnerability with our fellow beings.  And central to this search is a new understanding of God.  We need to turn to the way of Jesus and to open up his way in the world and in the Church.  This is the good news!  Jesus is inviting us to change the way we think!  His message:  Nothing can separate us from the love of God.  Do we believe that?

Philip stressed the essential identity between human and the divine.  Sin is not so much an offence against God but a failure to be human.

The challenge for all of us is to grow in our understanding of God.  We cannot have the same idea of God that we had five years ago.  We need to change our views and understandings as well as deepening our relationship with God.

 

 

 

 

Workshop on Feedback

 

The workshop on Feedback, facilitated by Donal and David,  straddled the Friday and Saturday programme.  This workshop proved to be invaluable in raising the issue of how best to point out difficulties in the behaviour or performance of a fellow Brother.  The session began where Brothers shared their experiences of being criticised by another person in community – often the leader – and how very frequently the way criticism is given does not result in the growth of the person.

Next, the workshop offered the Brothers the opportunity to outline the value of feedback when given in an elegant manner, and dangers of it when done awkwardly or aggressively.  In addition, the group discussed the danger of not giving feedback when it is called for.

This session was followed by a presentation on how to give feedback which led to a lively and interesting discussion on the do’s and don’ts of giving feedback.

The group was then divided in triads where one member became the person giving feedback to a receiver, and the process was observed by the third person who gave feedback to the giver and receiver.

Finally, the group was given a presentation on the need for support and challenge in the process of feedback.  Challenge without support leads to resentment and withdrawal, while support without challenge often leads to stagnation and the promotion of the status quo.

After the workshop on feedback, the group had the opportunity to reflect on the learnings of the week which they shared in the open forum.

 

 

Outreach Experience

After the daily centering prayer, the Brothers prepared to go to Kibera slum for a day of immersion with the people of this area.  Previously, the Brothers had visited the slum for a day where they experienced the life of Kibera, and saw how people managed to live under such difficult circumstances.  This time, the Brothers went to various schools and projects to spend a day interacting with the youth of Kibera.  It was an inspiring experience and each Brother found great benefit from this direct contact with a people who are courageously and daily confronting the challenges of slum life.

The Brothers were accompanied by volunteers who organise Edmund Rice camps for the children of Kibera.  Their presence was a real addition to the experience, as these same volunteers come from the Kibera slum itself and were able to give the Brothers real insight into the life of the local area.