Ecology: Cosmos and the Creed
NewsNotes, November-December 2008
In August, Elizabeth Johnson, CSJ addressed the Leadership Conference of Women Religiousand the Conference of Major Superiors of Men during their annual assembly. The address joined key elements of the 4th century Nicene Creed and insights from current theological reflection arising from scientific exploration. Following are a few thoughts inspired by Johnson’s work along with some of the rich expressions with which she graced her address.
The creed begins by citing the central tenet of Christian faith, “We believe in one God.” It goes on to affirm that the first signature act of God is to create all that exists. In beautifully crafted language Johnson lays before her audience a moving account of creation that embraces the entire gamut of existence. Underlying her work is the call to every generation to work toward understanding the ineffable work of God with ever increasing depth and scope.
The way our ancestors perceived the universe to have been fashioned shaped philosophical thought and provided the backbone for moral and ethical development. In times past, the cosmos was understood to have been created once and for all with each being separately formed by a wise creator. This way of understanding the cosmos supported the development of a body of fixed and definite norms that shaped and guided human activity and interplay.
The period in which we live today is gifted with a body of scientific knowledge that makes it possible to understand more than was ever before understood about how the universe or cosmos was formed. This provides a structure for imagining a different dynamism for capturing the way God’s creative work came to be. This entails imagining the profound mystery of God’s self revelation in creation becoming forever more fully manifest through the long, long journey of evolutionary unfolding. The whole of creation arises in an interdependent, sequential fashion. In this framework relationship is the central pattern and indicator of what is fundamentally important in human behavior: to be in right relationship, to honor all relationships.
Today, we are in awe before the realization that the cosmos is set upon an irreversible trajectory in which the indescribable holiness of the creator is always with us, and always ahead of us, luring the whole creation into the future, where God’s fullness is realized in the mystery of tomorrow and in the promise of the resurrection.Johnson notes that unpredictability marks the entire unfolding process, allowing for new forms of life and new conditions to emerge. In the emergent evolutionary universe, we should not be surprised to find divine creativity hovering very close to turbulence. This is the cosmic characteristic that nourishes hope in the newness of what lies ahead, in the unforeseen surprise.
We begin to grasp that creation is valued by God for its own sake and not exclusively for the sake of humanity. Every part of creation is important and has a role to fulfill in bringing forth what is yet to come. It is no wonder Pope John Paul II wrote, “Respect for life and for the dignity of the human person extends also to the rest of creation.” Now the great commandment to love your neighbor as yourself extends to include all members of the life community. Our neighbor is the entire community of life, the entire universe.
This leads Johnson into theological dialogue with the gospel story of Jesus. Jesus, who was internally far ahead of his historical time, valued relationship more than the law when the law’s content or practice was not supportive of life and joy. Casting the Word of God into the contemporary moment, Johnson writes, God in Christ is to be found, trying to bring about joy in the beloved creation even here, even now.
In the final section of the paper, Johnson writes eloquently of the Holy Spirit and poignantly of the Church. Finally, she concludes repeating the words, “We believe in one God.”