Tuesday, August 30

Liturgy, Symbolism and Respect in an Asian Context

In recent years, there has been a renewal of the Christian message within Asian culture, and indeed of the liturgy as a whole. However, there are still challenges with integrating the gospel into Asian culture. For example, Asians have felt that the Catholic Mass comes with a distinctly European mold, and with these trappings it can be difficult to translate into their culture. Buddhism and Islam have adapted to their different cultures - evidently it is time for Christianity to continue to do the same, and even more so than it is now. Certain cultural traditions such as funerals and marriages (and their different conceptions of each) ought to be respected and incorporated into the Christian expression in that local area. How do these various traditions interact, engage with and participate in each other in a healthy and respectful way? (Inspired by Chapter XI: Liturgy, Cultures, and Religions from The Eucharist and Human Liberation).

Honoring ancestors may also be thought of as cultural, although there is also the element of religiousness to this. The sort of clothing that is worn is also different culturally between the Western Church and the Asian Churches - those in the West tend to prefer to dress up for Mass, whereas the Asians generally prefer simplicity and therefore it may be pertinent to adapt to this cultural practice. The Eucharist is another consideration: bread and wine are not generally used in Asia as they are elsewhere. All of this being said, In what ways do we see the Christian message intermingling with the Asian context, and what can this teach us about where we've been, where we are and where we are going?

Jesus and the Buddha
Christians are called to recognize the dignity and value of the human person and hold a respect for each individual, but in some cases - particularly those in conflict with Buddhism that are now etched into the Asian memory - Christianity has not been so accepting of others. The Catholic Church (in part due to the work done at the Second Vatican Council) recognizes that other religions do contain truth and the movement of the Spirit, such as in Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam and others. For example, for Muslims, like many Catholics, St. Mary is held in very high regard and devotions may be directed toward her by both. Dialogue is something that needs to occur between Christians and others, as well as a respect for other religions and the ability to recognize goodness, beauty and truth in these other religious traditions. Part of this attitude toward other religions is accepting their values as well. An example of this can be seen through the Vesak, a festival of light and life. It celebrates the life of Buddha and emphasizes the virtues lived out by the Buddha. Christians may respect these values and virtues and accept these values as being virtuous indeed.

The Second Vatican Council (as well as the earlier Council of Trent) opened up the opportunity for liturgy in different areas to be changed and revised. Although there are certain distinctly Christian elements that should remain, some liturgical aspects can be adapted to the culture. Asia, however, seems to have yet to take much advantage of this. Other religions, such as Hinduism and Buddhism, have certain sacred texts that they use. Since the Church recognizes that each of these religions do have truths within them, there is a suggestion that perhaps selections from these texts can be read at Mass during the service of the Word. As an aside, one may point out that St. Paul quotes from a Cretan philosopher, a Greek poet, a Greek philosopher, St. Jude may allude to two apocryphal works, and there are works (such as the Book of Jasher) referred to in the Hebrew Bible that are not canonical Scripture. So there is a precedent for this sort of thinking, that perhaps at a Mass we may find readings from the Qur'an, the Vedic Scriptures, Buddhist Scriptures, or others.

This caused a major controversy at one point in Christian history, actually, known now as the (Chinese) Rites Controversy. The debate occurred in the 1600-1700s, In short, the controversy centered around whether or not Chinese practices such as honoring one's ancestors as well as other Confucian practices could be compatible with Catholicism, and further, various priests decided to dress in Confucian attire so as the better convey the Gospel within the Chinese culture. The Jesuits were at the forefront of this controversy, and felt that the rituals were compatible with Christianity, yet various religious orders (at the time) did not, and therefore reported this to Rome. There were bans on and off for a number of years, and finally in 1939, Pope Pius XII decreed that Christians may observe their ancestral rituals and practices as well as participate and engage in Confucian-based ceremonies and rites. This spirit of inclusion, inculturation of the Gospel and openness to a new local or cultural theology reached its climax with the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s, and this new openness continues to be felt today.

An early Nestorian monk
Interestingly, something similar nearly happened several centuries ago as well. In the early AD 600s, shortly after the early Islamic movement began to spread, a number of Christian (Nestorian) monks from the Eastern Church left for China. When they arrived, they began writing what is now known as the "Jesus Sutras," a collection of sutras (aphorisms, often found in the Buddhist tradition), a way of presenting the Gospel to the Chinese people by using Confucian, Buddhist and Taoist terminology, concepts and ideas. These Sutras are not considered canonical within the Church today, but upon their recent discovery over the past few years, they have served as an important lesson and reminder of how early missionaries presented the Christian message through different lenses, and allowed the cultural and religious traditions to interact and express the message in new, powerful and meaningful ways for their audience.

Concerning modern Christianity and Asia, there are many great spiritual leaders and thinkers that come from Asia. There are also a number of suggestions that have been made as to how Christianity and Buddhism can teach each other - a big proponent of this was the Trappist monk Thomas Merton, who participated in a number of interfaith communications. We may consider venerating Buddha on the day of his birth, or tying in these figures to the liturgy. It should be noted that these figures are not regarded as a god or worshiped as such in the other religions; it may be likened to the Catholic reverence and veneration of the saints. Consider also interreligious action. The suggestion is that we as people honor the different beliefs and practices of other religions, and in order to engage in reflection on the Christian Scriptures, we also need to be willing to reflect upon their Scriptures. This inter-religious reflection can bring about great appreciation and understanding. The different religions of the world all have mystical experiences at their roots. The Buddha had several mystical experiences. Christ went out into the desert and was later transfigured. Muhammad spoke to angels. The earthly liturgy should be a reflection of the heavenly liturgy, and it indeed is intended to be so.

To be sure, these various religious traditions and philosophies are very different. Buddhism comes out of an Indian context, brought about by the first Buddha - Siddhrtha Gautama. After leaving his princely life by exposure to the suffering and pains of life, he became a beggar-monk, and a homelss acestic man. He taught that through various means, one can achieve enlightenment and leave the cycles of reincarnation and enter into Nirvana. Taoism is an ancient Chinese religion, named after "the way" (thus, the Tao; interestingly, early Christianity was also called The Way). Taosim focuses on the yin and the yang, and Confucius was an early proponent of this religion. In fact, his ethical principles found in the Analects, for example, are founded in part on Taosim. Taoism is concerned with living in harmony with the universe. Christianity came out of the Middle East (which is also partly in Asia), and although it springs out of the Judaic tradition, it also finds its foundation in Jesus of Nazareth, who we venerate as the supreme deity incarnate who lived among us during the 1st century.

This does not mean, however, that there are not also commonalities or similarities. Take Buddhism, for instance. Buddhism is seen in some circles as a contemplative religious tradition. However, this does not mean that it is without its values on the human person and justice. Since its formation followers of the Buddha have placed an emphasis on social justice borne out of compassion. An early example of this emphasis is seen in the reign of King Ashoka (304-232 BC). Ashoka started out as a violent ruler, but following his conversion to Buddhism he began to repent for his past actions, and as a result, he tried to rehabilitate prisoners and stop the slaying of animals as well as setting up hospital-like areas for both humans and animals. Further, Ashoka formed a group of messengers who could bring their concerns and desires before the king to be given fair treatment. This is something that should be familiar to the Christian audience, as Christians are called to live a life of mercy and compassion rooted in social justice.

Further, in the Mahayana Buddhist tradition we read of the bodhisattva, Christ-like figures who live their lives in service of others. A bodhisattva pledges to take upon themselves the burdens and suffering of all beings, from humans to birds to plants. This allows the bodhisattva to fully experience the life of creation and as a result, he or she grows in compassion - one could compare this in a Girardian sense to the sacrificial work of Jesus as the scapegoat. As another example, the current (14th) Dalai Llama cries out for justice for the Tibetan people, as well as an end to injustices across the globe and fair treatment of all through compassionate means. Although this is only one example, it demonstrates that Buddhism also places an emphasis on the same sort of issues that we would find in Catholic Social Teaching or elsewhere in the Christian tradition.

What are we left with, then? Perhaps it is important that Christians come to learn more about Buddhists, Taoists and Confucian philosophy, and vice versa. Perhaps it is important to adapt various cultural and religious expressions of the Asian context into the modern liturgy. This integration would be crucial for the people living in each community, as it allows one's cultural and religious heritage to interact, inform and engage with another living tradition that they may or may not be attempting to take on. Finding similarities and matters of agreement and relationality is also vital for continued flourishing and fruitful potentiality. As Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh says in Living Buddha, Living Christ, "If we find ways to cherish and develop our spiritual heritage, we will avoid the kind of alienation that is destroying society, and we will become whole again... Learning to touch deeply the jewels of our own tradition will allow us to understand and appreciate the values of other traditions, and this will benefit everyone." Amen.

Monday, August 29

The Call to Humility: Taking the Lowest Place

One of the most important virtues in the Christian tradition is that of humility. In fact, one of the most important calls in the Christian Scriptures is "to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God" (Micah 6:8; emphasis mine). There has been much written about Christian humility, and there are many wonderful examples found through its history - from the poverty of St. Francis of Assisi to the compassion of Mother Theresa; Jesus called this way "gentle and humble" (Matt. 11:29). The Beatitudes reflect this as well, wherein the humble are called the "poor in spirit," as well as later in the Matthean tradition, where we are told that we must become like little children - and in so doing, take on the humility and innocence of a child. Humility is something we desperately need in our society today, where ego, position and titles so often gets in the way of mercy, compassion and justice. If we are to walk in the way of peace, we must answer the call of humility, and take the lowest place.

Consider this past week's Gospel reading in light of the theme of humility. 
According to Luke 14:1, 7-14, 
"On a sabbath Jesus went to dine at the home of one of the leading Phariseesand the people there were observing him carefully.... He told a parable to those who had been invited, noticing how they were choosing the places of honor at the table. “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not recline at table in the place of honor. A more distinguished guest than you may have been invited by him, and the host who invited both of you may approach you and say, ‘Give your place to this man,’ and then you would proceed with embarrassment to take the lowest place. Rather, when you are invited, go and take the lowest place so that when the host comes to you he may say, ‘My friend, move up to a higher position’... 'For every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.' 
Then [Jesus] said to the host who invited him, 'When you hold a lunch or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or your wealthy neighbors, in case they may invite you back and you have repayment. Rather, when you hold a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous."
This gospel has a very simple, yet radically potent message: "take the lowest place." Theologically, we would note that Jesus took "the lowest place" by humbling himself and emptying himself when he came to live among us, a process called kenosis (cf. Philippians 2:5-11). This process of self-emptying can lead to humility, yet we may often avoid the path of humility because it also leads to vulnerability. To be humble is to be open to vulnerability, to uncertainty and servanthood. Mother Theresa of Calcutta once said, "Humility is the mother of all virtues - purity, charity and obedience. It is in being humble that our love becomes real, devoted and ardent. If you are humble, nothing will touch you, neither praise nor disgrace, because you know what you are. If you are blamed, you will not be discouraged. If they call you a saint you will not put yourself on a pedestal."

Even Jesus, who deserved "the place of honor",
untied the sandals of his followers and washed their feet,
taking "the lowest place."
Our world today is very much about structures, titles, hierarchy, accreditation, and "places of honor." Yet in the gospel, Jesus is teaching us to "take the lowest place," regardless of our socio-economic, political, and cultural status. This is a hard lesson for us, because humans have a desire to be recognized, to be praised and affirmed, and to be remembered. This is not necessarily a bad thing; psychologist Abraham Maslow would argue that these are basic human identity needs. But challenges crop up when these identity needs are placed before the needs of others, or are lauded around and celebrated at the expense of the dignity and respect for others. I recently heard a story of a professor of graduate studies at a School for Theology who said that if the students had gone all four years of school without learning the names of the janitors who worked in their building, the good people who worked in food service or those who worked on maintenance for the university, then their degree was not earned. They had taken the place of honor, and now held the title, but had not been with those who had taken the lowest place.

Our role as humans in connecting with others ought to lead to upholding, respecting and dignifying others. But if we choose instead to make ourselves into something bigger, and "take the place of honor," then we overshadow those who have taken "the lowest place," and although we may stand as giants, we stand without these important human connections. This message of humility can be taken another way as well. This past Saturday, I attended a Profession of Solemn Vows for three Franciscan friars in Manhattan. On the way there, our bus encountered some difficulties and had to pull over for an extended period of time while the problem was being worked on. In the process, I grew restless and impatient, as I knew we would be late for the ceremony. As I understand it, the community I am with (and came with) was expected to sit in the front of the Church, and as such, be both the first in the opening procession of the ceremony, and probably the first to leave - receiving the recognition of the people.

However, we arrived about a half hour late, and at the end of the ceremony our presence was indeed recognized - but we were all sitting in the back of the Church. The recognition itself was not necessarily embarrassing, but the thought that we could have been the first was at first slightly frustrating for me. When hearing this gospel from St. Luke on Sunday, however, the story took on new meaning. It was not important to be the first ones to arrive or to leave - nor should I desire "the place of honor." It was better for me and for the others in my community to have sat in the very back, to "take the lowest place." It was better to be humbled by the experience of the problematic bus, so that I could learn a lesson of growth in both patience, humility, and vulnerability. It was better that the focus was on our three new solemnly professed friars, as the day was theirs, not ours. As Jesus said, "the one who exalts himself will be humbled," an experience I can now experientially attest to.

Seeking to be loved, admired and appreciated is indeed a very human quality - but as a Christian, I am called to littleness, minoritas, and humility. Today in various Christian denominations, the Martyrdom of St. John the Baptist is remembered and celebrated. So in keeping with the life and lessons of St. John - who was himself a powerful speaker, prophet of the people and a well-known itinerant - we may recall his words regarding Jesus, that "He must become greater; I must become less" or as some translations say, "He must increase, and I must decrease" (John 3:30). We must also uphold those who have been marginalized by society, as Jesus says here - "the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind," as well as the many other communities who continue to suffer from oppression and marginalization. These have experienced minoritas, and can teach us how to "seek justice and to love mercy and to walk humbly with [our] God."

Thursday, August 11

Charles Darwin, Theology and Evolutionary Perspectives

One of the major points of debate in Christian circles is that of origins, often framed as a "science vs. religion" debate, or a "creation vs. evolution." How can theology speak to this continuing conversation? How does an evolutionary perspective interact with the Christian tradition? In order to plunge into this ocean of intrigue, we must begin with Darwin. Charles Darwin (1809-1882), famous for popularizing and developing a unified theory of evolution, argued that all species - including homo sapiens - are products of “natural selection.” Darwin originally delayed the publication of The Origin of Species, largely because he was well aware that his ideas and theories flew in the face of contemporary assumptions and beliefs concerning human origins. His idea concerning the "descent by modification" was the gradual process by which various species evolved and changed. It in effect contradicted the prevailing world view of Darwin’s time, which had spoken of such ideas as spontaneous generation. However, around 1844 an anonymous booklet titled "Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation" was published, which discussed what we now refer to as stellar evolution as well as the transmutation of species - the idea that preceded Darwin's theory of natural selection. Darwin felt that this little booklet that was being widely circulated prepared the general public and the scientific community for his Origin of Species, so in 1859, he finally published his work.

One must point out, however, that Darwin was not the first to think of evolutionary ideas. Thales of Miletus (640-546 BC) thought that life originated in water,1 and his student Anaximander (611-547 BC) thought that humans evolved from fish or fishlike forms.2 Xenophanes of Colophon (570-475 BC) recognized that fossils showed how life evolved,3 and Democritus (460-370 BC) taught that primitive people began to speak sounds then moved to words.4 Medieval Islamic authors held similar theories, largely due to their revival of ancient Greek classical texts. Therefore, although Darwin’s theory of evolution was new, it was not altogether unheard of. In fact, there are a number of people who may have influenced Darwin’s idea: Jean Baptiste Lamarck (who held that characteristics gained over a lifetime were inherited), Thomas Malthus (his theory of population growth), Comte de Buffon (came up with the idea of calculus, which helps modeling for evolution), and Alfred Russel Wallace (independently almost wrote essentially what Darwin wrote, but Darwin published first; they held parallel ideas). His grandfather, Erasmus Darwin, was one of his primary inspirations, as well as Charles Lyell, James Hutton, and Georges Cuvier - who first started assembling different skeletons and was making classifications of plants.

(Wikimedia Commons; Public Domain)
One of the charges often leveled at Christianity is that as a whole it is anti-science. Although there are a good number of modern Christians (especially in various American Christian denominations) who oppose different scientific discovery, there are also a large number who do not, and have not. Consider that it was a Belgian Catholic priest, Georges LemaƮtre, who discovered the Big Bang! It was an Augustinian friar, Gregor Mendel (1822-1884), who discovered modern genetics and is considered the father of genetics, which helped lead to the discovery of evolution. Consider that it was a Franciscan friar, Roger Bacon, who is credited as developing the Scientific Method. Further, despite commonly held beliefs surrounding the Galileo case and the Catholic Church, Galileo was actually a Secular Franciscan, studied medicine at a Jesuit monastery, had two daughters who became Poor Clares and spent their lives in the convent, and Galileo was especially close to one of the Popes of the time. It is also true that many of the Jesuits who also specialized in astronomy supported the research of Galileo at the time.5 (For more information, see: Galileo, the Church and the Heliocentric Affair)

Despite this and other interactions between science and religion, there is a vast body of evidence that resistance to the theory of evolution remains strong in some parts our society today, long after Darwin's work was published. Take for example the often cited Answers in Genesis, a Young-Earth Creationist (YEC) organization headed by Ken Ham. The YEC movement has been made famous through Ham’s debate with Bill Nye, through the Creation Museum in Kentucky, and the life-sized Noah’s Ark they have built in Kentucky. AiG is not the only organization to espouse this kind of view, there are others - such as the Institute for Creation Research, Creation International and others. The basic beliefs are that the Genesis narrative is literally true, particularly Genesis 1-11, that God created the universe 6000-24,000 years ago, that it only took God six, literal, 24 hour days to create, that modern dating methods do not work and everything merely "looks old," that Adam and Eve were real people, that there was a real, global flood - believed to be the source of fossils, that there was a real Tower of Babel, and finally, that dinosaurs and man lived together. Many Christians, however, instead accept alternative interpretations of the Genesis narrative or other understandings of origins, such as the view of Theistic Evolution, in which the divine Creator uses the processes of descent by modification, natural selection and such as a chisel to make the world, so to speak, just as Michelangelo would use a chisel to sculpt, yet he would remain the sculptor - or in other words, God is the artist, who uses a tool (evolutionary processes) to sculpt the world.

One helpful analogy when discussing science, theology and the Christian tradition is that of the "Two Books" of God's Revelation: the Bible and what we call the "Book of Creation." The Wesleyan Quadrilateral would refer to theology as being made up of four parts: Scripture, Tradition, Experience and Reason, but perhaps we may more widely define "Scripture" as the revelations of the Creator, which would include this "Book of Creation." Thus, the task of theologians is to "read" this book of creation in light of scientific findings and integrate them into our theological understandings, and vice versa. This idea of the "Two Books" is also not a new one. It is found in early Church writings such as St. Justin Martyr, St. Irenaeus, Origen of Alexandria and St. Augustine. it can be inferred from the writings of St. Paul in Romans 1:20, it is mentioned by the Franciscan friar St. Bonaventure, as well as St. Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Wesley, and many modern theologians who use it today.6 One organization, Biologos, in light of this understanding, holds that "Christians should think of Scripture and Creation as two “books” that should be read together for understanding the fullness of God’s self-revelation."7

Robert Boyle (1627-1691), an Anglo-Irish inventor, chemist, physicist and natural philosopher, once commented that “The book of nature is a fine and large piece of tapestry rolled up, which we are not able to see all at once, but must be content to wait for the discovery of its beauty, and symmetry, little by little, as it gradually comes to be more and more unfolded, or displayed.”8 From an evolutionary perspective, we may say that relationship is progressive - and God is progressive with God's relationship to creation. In fact, the term “evolution” comes from the Latin evolutionem, meaning “unrolling” or “an opening of what was rolled up,” and what is the foundation of Christianity if not continuous revelation and unfolding? Darwin himself once said, "I see no good reasons why evolution should shock the religious feelings of any... it is just as noble a conception of the Deity to believe that He created a few original forms capable of self-development into other and needful forms, as to believe that He required a fresh act of creation to supply the voids caused by the action of His laws."9

When considering Scripture and theology in light of evolutionary science, the book of Genesis is what is discussed the most - as the first few chapters deal with origins. As such, some have taken an approach to try and fit a literal Adam and Eve into the evolutionary framework, suggesting that at some point in evolutionary history, God endowed our early ancestors with the gift of reason and free will, thus situation Adam and Eve into the evolutionary timeline. Others point to passages early in Genesis to try and fit in what we study today in science with the ancient text; for example, one may believe that Genesis 1:3 which says, "Let there be light..." is the record of the words spoken by The Divine which triggered the Big Bang and set the universe into motion. Or, some may consider evolutionary processes to be found in Genesis by citing verses such as Genesis 1:24, "Let the earth bring forth...", suggesting that God imbued the earth with the creative ability to bring forth life and the conditions for life to flourish.

The Poetic structure of Genesis 1
Others look at the religion vs. science debate from a literary perspective. They suggest that Genesis 1 is structured much like a poem, with stanzas and repetition, and was not intended to give a literal, historic and scientific narrative of the origin of the universe. Rather, it was intended to provide a poetic and artistic narrative that is similar in many respects to other creation stories found in Near Eastern mythologies. Certainly, there are poetic devices in place - such as verse 27, which demonstrates a parallelism similar to how most of the Psalms are structured. The picture to the left also demonstrates the many repetitions within the opening chapter. Some scholars will note that Genesis 1 is laid out much like a liturgical poem, with the response given as "And God saw that it was good," and also containing poetic elements of symmetry and parallelism. Consider just a few of the poetic parallels and thematic parallels in each of the seven days: day one has light and dark, day two has sky and sea, day three has sea and land, day four has sun, moon and stars, day five has birds and fish, day six has animals and humans, and day seven is capped off with divine celebration.10

One scholar, John Walton, puts forth a theory in his book The Lost World of Genesis One. Walton notes that in ancient times, other Near-Eastern nations close to Israel believed that gods dwelled in temples. When they built a temple for a god, they would set up an image of that god on the sixth day of the celebration, and on the seventh day they would rest. Walton argues that Genesis 1 serves a purpose as a functional origin story, wherein God sets up his "cosmic temple." Then, God puts his image in creation - his "temple" - on the sixth day and rests on the seventh day, just as can be found throughout ancient Near Eastern mythologies. Walton believes that this first chapter is written as such to show that the God of Israel trumps all of the other foreign deities, demonstrating his power, majesty and might. Genesis 1 shows the divine sovereign sending forth, issuing commands and declaring dominion over everything - not only of an earth-bound temple, but of the entire "cosmic temple." Other writers have suggested different ways of interpreting the narratives found in Genesis. For example, Peter Enns notes in his Evolution of Adam that Adam serves in a quasi-preistly role  in the Garden of Eden, perhaps foreshadowing the future covenental relationships. Thus, Adam fills the role of a literary character who foreshadows the role of future priests in Israel, demonstrating that just as Adam cared deeply for the garden of Eden and all of its inhabitants, so too much the priests and teachers of the law care for Israel (their land) and all of its inhabitants.

On a narrative level, many different religious traditions, philosophies and non-religious individuals have come together to form a grand narrative, an "Epic of Evolution." In other words, "The Great Story (also known as the Universe Story, Epic of Evolution, or Big History) is humanity's common creation story. It is the 14 billion year science-based sacred story of cosmic genesis, from the formation of the galaxies and the origin of Earth life, to the development of self-reflective consciousness and collective learning, to the emergence of comprehensive compassion and tools to assist humanity in living harmoniously with the larger body of life."11  This "Epic of Evolution" is one way in which all religious and non-religious can dialogue, develop, discuss and have a narrative framework in which to work.

Developing an evolutionary theology brings about a number of wondrous new insights and considerations. For example, consider the beauty of the inter-connectedness with all other beings. St. Francis of Assisi (1182-1226), though not aware of the Darwinian theory of evolution, modern genetics or modern biology, was fully aware of the sacred connection that exists between all things. Francis celebrated and embodied this in his famous Canticle of the Creatures. In it, St. Francis refers to everything in relational terms as "brother and sister"; as in "Brother Sun," or "Sister Moon." From an evolutionary perspective, bearing in mind that all living beings are interconnected and related, this adds an even more layered depth of meaning. Insights such as these, when more fully explored, bring about a wider breadth to the grand narrative of God's work in history, as well as how we relate, care for and connect with the creation around us. If we are all related, how much more should we desire to care for creation! Another consideration is that every single atom that exists has existed since the moment of creation, meaning that the atoms which make up your body were once something or someone else entirely. Genesis 2 describes the creation of man from the dust of the earth, and today we would recognize that our bodies are made of elements from the stars!

On this point, Christian theologian Elizabeth Johnson notes, "Understanding the human species as an intrinsic part of planetary and cosmic matter has far-reaching implications for the meaning of incarnation. In this perspective, the human flesh that the Word became is part of the vast body of the cosmos. Theologians have started to use the phrase "deep incarnation," coined by Danish theologian Niels Gregersen, to express this radical divine reach into the very tissue of biological existence and the wider system of nature. Like all human beings, Jesus carried within himself what Jesuit Father David Toolan has called 'the signature of the supernovas and the geology and life history of the Earth.' The genetic structure of his cells made him part of the whole community of life that descended from common ancestors in the ancient seas. The flesh that the Word became thus reaches beyond Jesus and other human beings to encompass the whole biological world of living creatures and the cosmic dust of which we are composed... By becoming flesh the Word of God confers blessing on the whole of earthly reality in its material dimension, and beyond that, on the cosmos in which the Earth exists. Rather than being a barrier that distances us from the divine, this material world becomes a sacrament that can reveal divine presence. In place of spiritual contempt for the world, we ally ourselves with the living God by loving the whole natural world, part of the flesh that the Word became."12

What then are we left with? When we mix Darwin, theology and evolutionary perspectives, and we consider the movement of Christian thought and practice in today's world, we are again reminded of the need for a new theology for the this third millennium. Many of the questions we ask are very anthropocentric. Some believe that the only purpose of everything before us was to bring about the existence of humanity, "God's greatest jewel." But again, this is very human-centric thinking, and fairly limiting to the creative potential and action of the Divine. Where do we see the action of the Divine throughout geological history? In what ways do we find the relationship between God and early ancestors? Where do we find the movement of the Spirit in the Cambrian explosion, a period marked by an outburst of creative energy? If homo sapiens have only existed for 150,000-200,000 years out of the 4.6 billion years of Earth's history. or the 13.7 billion years of cosmic history, what does this mean for our place in history, our place in the universe and our place in the Divine plan for the cosmos? Certainly, the modern debate over origins - particularly between Young Earth Creation and evolutionary perspectives - will continue to go on, but when we view theology through the lens of evolutionary history, what we end up with is an Epic Story filled with beauty, progression and continuation. May the Divine Spirit grant us the insight and discernment as we continue to venture forth into this hitherto unknown country and journey on this voyage of discovery.

"There is a grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into few forms... endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved." 
 - Charles Darwin, On the Origin of Species-

Endnotes
[1] Birdsell, J.B. Human Evolution. Chicago: Rand McNally, 1972. 22. Print.
[2] Thompson, B. The History of Evolutionary Thought. Fort Worth: Star Bible & Tract Corp., 1981, 29.
[3] Glass, B., Owsel, T. and Straus, W. Forerunners of Darwin: 1745–1895. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1959. 6. Print.

[4] Macior, L., Introduction; in: Dodson, E.O. and Howe, G.F., Creation or Evolution, University of Ottawa Press, Ottawa, p. viii, 1990.
[5] In 1611, after publishing his Messenger from the Stars, Fr. Christopher Clavius, the chief mathematician and astronomer at the Jesuit Collegio Romano wrote to Galileo to inform him that the astronomers at the college confirmed his discoveries. Where Galileo ran into trouble was when he began claiming his theory as fact without first having actual evidence. Many of his ideas had already been disproven by other scientists, but he refused to acknowledge this.
[6] Mann, Mark. "The Church Fathers and Two Books Theology - Blog Series. Biologos, n.d. Web.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Boyel, Robert. The Christian Virtuoso. Ed. Works of Thomas Birch. 1744. Print.
[9] Darwin, Charles. On the Origin of the Species. 6th ed. Print.
[10] McLaren, Brian. The Story We Find Ourselves In: Further Adventures of a New Kind of Christian. Book 2. Print.
[11] Dowd, Michael. "What Is The Great Story?" The Great Story. N.p., n.d. Web.
[12] Johnson, Elizabeth. "For God so Loved the Cosmos." Environment. U.S. Catholic, 2013. Web.