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The Evolving Habits of Nature | April 21, 2024 by Rev. Dr. Kathryn Benton



 

Since we are not only living in the universe but the universe is living in us, it follows, then, that the human being is an organic part of the universe. In the human organism is experienced the order and harmony of the universe. In fact, it would not have been possible for the human being to emerge had certain conditions not been maintained so that life for the human being and all the multitudinous kinsmen could be sustained.

 

Many of us will recognize the opening quote from Howard Thurman. I have used this as a basis for so many considerations of our current situation. Thurman says that the human organism experiences the order and harmony of the universe. If this is true, then I would ask, what happens when that order and harmony are disrupted? It is, I think, the recognition that we do not actually exist in any separate sense…we are more of an accumulation of beings…bacteria, viruses, fungi that informs our realization that we are constantly changing and adapting to our environment. We are engaged in an interdependent dance based to some extent on the laws of nature. We do this in all aspects of our being…emotional, spiritual, intellectual, biological…not only are we one, but the world is one. We are indeed an organic part of the universe…of everything that is…the universe is indeed living in us as well.

 

Now that we have this established, I would like to go a little deeper on this Earth weekend, beginning with words from a teacher of mine Thomas Berry. He wrote:

 

…the ultimate custody of the earth belongs to the earth…As humans we need to recognize the limitations in our capacity to deal with these comprehensive issues of the earth’s functioning. So long as we are under the illusion that we know best what is good for the earth and for ourselves, then we will continue our present course, with its devastating consequences on the entire earth community.

 

Berry says that the earth belongs to the earth…not us…not our intellect, to be sure…not our logical mind. Of course, we are part of the earth (or is the earth part of us?). But what Berry is saying is that we need to develop a sense of humility…a sense of knowing that we do not know…that there is, in reality, so little that we do know. Imagine if we actually gained a sense of humility…a sense that we are actually learning from earth’s and indeed universal processes how to proceed? Imagine if we were truly able to get over ourselves, says Yoruba teacher Bayo Akolomafe. Berry continues:

 

The earth will solve its problems, and possibly our own, if we will let the earth function in its own ways. We need only listen to what the earth is telling us.

 

Thus far, we have not been able to heed this advice…we have not been able to let the earth function in its own way…we have not honored our own home enough to listen. Are we even capable of truly listening to the earth? In order to hear the earth, we have to learn to stop and reflect on our behavior and its impact on all of life. This is not trivializing the occasion of Earth Day as a time to pick up trash and do something for the earth. This is important, to be sure, but not enough. If we truly realize that we too are earth, we are capable of observing and learning from the way that earth functions…in plants, animals, earth’s processes, including our own bodies. There is evidence that the cells, microbes and various parts of our own bodies can, at least to some extent, be persuaded to heal our bodies from toxins and even, in some cases to adapt to these toxins. That is, of course, if we are able to see the world wholistically and listen for the wisdom that is built into the earth and into the very cells in our bodies.

 

And these processes are certainly not static. It is true that our day to day lives make it difficult to comprehend things on earth’s timeline…even on the timeline of our own bodies. Evolutionary time has been so difficult to comprehend, that it took until 1859, when Darwin’s theory became more accepted by humanity. Of course, we know that others had talked and written about this theory before then, but even now, there are those that state that they do not believe in evolution. The theory, that has also evolved, and continues to evolve, at bottom states that all life is changing…it changes in reaction to its environment…in short, it adapts. Still, it is often assumed that there is a basic structure that remains the same. This is often seen as building blocks and perhaps even laws of nature. Another teacher of mine, Rupert Sheldrake wrote about these laws in the following way:

 

…the evolutionary cosmology throws the old idea of eternal “laws of nature” into doubt. If nature evolves, why shouldn’t the laws of nature evolve as well?         

How could we possibly know that the “laws” that govern you and me –               

the crystallization of sugar, the weather, and so on –                                           

were all there at the moment of the Big Bang?                                                         

In an evolutionary universe, it makes more sense to think of                                 

the laws of nature as evolving too.                                                                              

I think it makes even better sense to regard the regularities of nature                    

as more like habits. And the habits of nature evolve.                                                

Instead of the whole universe being governed by an eternal, mathematical mind,    

it may depend on an inherent memory…a memory in nature.

 

Sheldrake speaks of evolutionary cosmology…a recognition that all is evolving. This is incredibly hopeful news! Instead of the idea that laws or as Sheldrake says, habits are permanent and ‘set in stone’, they are always in the process of changing and adapting. Could this mean that the earth could, as Berry says solve its problems? Could we, in concert with the earth, solve some of our self-imposed assaults even on our own bodies? Well, I’m not sure I can go that far, but there is evidence that we can change and adapt if we pay more attention to these habits…these processes…if we honor these habits as the work of the spirit…the mysterious, wholistic, ever-changing way of the world. This is not delegating them to some mysterious realm that cannot be understood or acted upon. This is to be informed, at each moment by the spirit in our lives. This spirit shows up in our thoughts and ideas, our feelings and also in our bodies. It is only accessible when we stop to reflect and to truly listen. We do this through prayer and meditation…through basic awareness of what is.




 

Of course, just a short moment of awareness is not enough, but it is something. And it is something that few of us take the time for anymore. It allows a space for the spirit to seep into our awareness and remind us of our true nature…that of wholeness and integration. This can lead us to improving our ability to hear what our world is telling us…from within and without and feeling more deeply…more authentically our sense of being alive…our sense of involvement in this moment and everything that means...intellectually, emotionally, spiritually. And when we become more aware…when we look and listen for the signs…the messages, we will be better equipped to pursue the dreams…our own dreams and our collective dreams. Thurman spoke about these dreams. He wrote:


Saddle your dreams before you ride them.” It is the nature of dreams to run riot, never to wish to contain themselves within limitations that are fixed.       

Sometimes they seem to be the cry of the heart for the boundless                           

and the unexplored. Often they are fashioned out of longings too vital to die,        

out of hankerings fed by hidden springs in the dark places of the spirit.            

Often they are the offspring of hopes that can never be realized and longings      

that can never find fulfillment. . . . But all their meaning need not be exhausted   

by such harsh judgment. The dreams belong to us;                                               

they come full-blown out of the real world in which we work and hope                

and carry on. . . . Our dreams must be saddled by the hard facts of our world  before we ride them off among the stars. Thus, they become for us the bearers of the new possibility, the enlarged horizon, the great hope.                                        

Even as they romp among the stars they come back to their place in our lives, bringing with them the radiance of the far heights, the lofty regions,                   

and giving to our days the lift and the magic of the stars.


As much of a mystic that Thurman was, he was also a realist. He was, I think, deeply in touch with reality. He seems to have been always studying something…with the apparent goal of healing…of giving to each person’s days a deeper relationship and companionship with all life that we may work toward and experience a new possibility…and enlarged horizon…the great hope.



 

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