New Cosmology: A Great Story—Our Common Story

Could a story of awe at the unfolding of the universe be a story in which we can all find a home?
Photo courtesy NASA

Some call it a dance. Many call it reason for a new faith in the human prospect. More often, it's called a story, a grand, unifying narrative that points to the awakening of the human to meaning and wonder in a cosmos that had become increasingly impersonal and purposeless under the sway of Western science and the classical humanist tradition. However it's referred to, the new cosmology (also called the new story, the Great Story, the Universe Story) is energizing hearts and minds the planet over.

The key discovery is this: The Universe isn't simply a place or a vast mechanism. Nor is it aimless and random. It's an event, a sacred story begun 13 to 14 billion years ago, and one that continues to unfold and reach greater depths of beauty and complexity. And this complexification appears to be slanted so that the emergence of life and intelligence was inevitable. For the first time, through the discoveries of science, we have a common story. Points of transformation in the story have been moments of grace brought about in moments of crisis (see YES!, Spring 2000).

Photosynthesis is one such moment of grace. About 3.9 billion years ago, the planet faced a crisis when the early Earth's generation of chemically rich compounds was slowing just at a time when the population of procaryotic cells (bacteria and blue-green algae, for example) feeding off the compounds was expanding exponentially. Instead of a major die-off from starvation, some procaryotes learned to capture photons hurtling at the speed of light from the Sun and convert them to food. The result, photosynthesis, was a creative act of elegance born out of crisis.

Humans: another moment of grace

The human, as one product of that evolutionary journey, represents yet another moment of grace—we are a species that reflects on the Universe consciously and on our own role in it. As such, we are a species who will consciously choose what kind of world we want. Our participation gives value and meaning to our lives. At our moment of crisis, will we choose to advance the evolutionary process consciously?

The powers and forces that have shaped the story have shaped us, says mathematical cosmologist Brian Swimme, one of the most inspiring articulators of the new story. It is to these powers we must go for guidance. To do so is to tap into a source of remarkable energy, one that can guide us humans away from being a destructive presence on the planet.

Swimme's identification of the powers is based in impeccable science, mainly the discoveries of physics. “The Universe is permeated by cosmological powers that wove us into being,” says Swimme, “and we are those powers in a new form.” This realization is not simply an idle intellectual diversion, but a transformation in the way we view ourselves as humans that rivals the Copernican Revolution. The discovery by Copernicus that Earth circled the Sun caused a complete rethinking of the place of the human in the cosmos.

Eventually, an emphasis on the physical sciences led to the worldview that we live in a mechanical, largely incoherent cosmos and that human existence is pointless in the larger scheme. Now, the new cosmology, through a new understanding of the evolutionary story, places people back into a significant role as conscious, spiritual participants at the leading edge of evolution. We are key characters in the grand narrative of the Universe, which is a purposeful event permeated with intelligence.

We can (again) be of use to the Earth

Our call now is to move beyond the hubris of the past into our greater promise as a species by creating what cultural historian Thomas Berry has termed “mutually enhancing human-Earth relations.” The Earth, through the human species, is coming into an awareness of its own emergence and that of the Universe. We participate in this awakening of Earth by reinventing the major forms of human presence on the planet. This is happening in many areas, from education to economics to agriculture and more, a creative emergence that YES! has been chronicling for these first ten years.

I chose the excerpt from Thomas Berry's writing (see sidebar) because it expresses, for me, how this story provides a very real and grounded sense of hope. Berry, as the touchstone of this movement, has ignited many other voices, from land-based communities, to wisdom schools, a think tank on the coming “Ecozoic” era, academic forums on religion and ecology, and more. The story is being sung, danced, and told by people who are choosing the side of a vibrant Earth community. Like an elder oak, his vision has elicited a sensibility in Western hearts and minds which—as practiced in many indigenous societies—is ancient. It is also new in that it integrates the discoveries of the sciences, a sprouting acorn that promises to flourish into a sturdy tree. That is the sense that we can be of the Earth again, that we can care for the land, that we will remember the value of each member of the Earth community, remember what has come before, and embrace the promise of what is yet to come.

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