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  • Sean O'Leary

The Unfolding Universe

From our deepest origins, human beings have felt the need to respond to a sacred call. The landscapes they dwelled in aroused a sense of spirituality, religious emotion, awe and mystery.


In early Christianity, the landscape revealed the sacramentality of all creation, providing a lens that peered into a deeper reality. Celtic Christians in particular strongly experienced the presence of God in the natural world as well as in their close connections with nature.


This sense of a deep network within creation has been reignited by science in recent decades as science matures from a mechanistic view of the universe to a more holistic, ecological and systematic perspective. Everything is interconnected within the biosphere from the individual human to global social systems and from atoms to ecosystems. The biosphere is a network of relationships that forms an enormous living system.


From evolutionary biology, we are beginning to appreciate the creative unfolding of life from the elements of the universe that came together in a universal ancestor some 3.5 billion years ago, a key moment in cosmological evolution known as abiogenesis.


Over time, this ancient ancestor was transformed into a great web of life forming millions of species of increasing complexity and diversity. In the wonderous growth of this ‘Tree of Life’, living species were shaped through interaction with the natural world thus revealing the branches of this one precious tree.


The Passionist Priest Fr. Thomas Berry described the universe as a ‘single gorgeous celebratory event’ and contributed greatly to our understanding of universal communion as a critical part of the story of the universe.


The language of science speaks in terms of respiration, a characteristic of all life that refers to gas exchange between an organism and its environment but also to the release of metabolic energy. Yet, the ‘breath of life’ can also be used to describe the communality of living things. ‘Every living thing’ has ‘the breath of life’ (cf. Gen 7:21-22).


It is also the ‘breath of life’ that has come to signify our spiritual experiences during moments of heightened awareness that offers us a profound experience of reality. During such moments, we encounter mystery as we feel a deep sense of connection with the tapestry of life and the intricate patterns of the natural world. Such deep-rooted spiritual experiences are a precious gift, a divine spark that prompts us to better know and love God.