Monthly letters to help put the work of the catechist of the Good Shepherd into the context of the larger world · from the archives
by Catherine Maresca
The children of our congregations are coming into the atria this month. They are also going back to school (or resuming homeschool work). Thus begins another year of integrating two worldviews that are more and more separated by our churches and schools.
Here is a little help from the children themselves. During Advent one year our prayer service included the prophecy, “…a star shall rise from Judah” (Num. 24,17). As we considered what a star could tell us about Jesus, the Messiah, one of the 7-year-old children said that if Jesus is a star, and we are all made of stardust, then Jesus is in all of us.
Another student, at age 11, wrote, “Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 6,19). Then he added, “This sentence and Cosmic Communion go together because all plants and animals have bodies they live in, and therefore they all have a temple of the Holy Spirit inside them.”
How easily these boys integrated modern cosmology and our ancient faith. We can ask ourselves what set them on this path, and how can we encourage this integration. My first thought is that both boys have dropped the hierarchical cosmology of the past. God is not above the firmament, with angels, humans, other animals, plants and minerals in perfect order “below” them. We are not in a relationship with the rest of the universe determined by our place in this hierarchy. Instead, they boys perceive “interbeing” (as coined by Thich Nhat Hahn) from their knowledge of science and these two Biblical texts. We live in God, and God in us, and this is also true of the sun, the trees, the cattle, the elements we breathe and those that flow in our blood. In Level III, the “Story of Bread” points to this same reality, exploring the gifts of creation as well as the work of humankind within the bread brought to our altars.
We also have learned to avoid claiming that our texts hold scientific truth rather than theological truth. Their authors were often telling a story that both matched the worldview of their time AND pointed to something true in their understanding of God. We discuss the worldview as something that has changed. (How would we write a creation story today? And how would that be perceived in another 3,000 years?) The material of the Fettuccia in Level II is a wonderful example of sacred history, including creation, integrated with an evolutionary worldview. Years ago my daughter came home at age seven and said to me, “Mom, I know who the sheep are. They are the minerals and plants and animals. And we [humankind] are the ‘other sheep’ that the Good Shepherd is calling.” I love that she saw all of creation as part of the flock of the Good Shepherd, and was humble enough to see that it is humankind that still needs to find the way to live in communion with God and creation.
Human understanding of God is often based on an experience that is to some degree suprahistorical, as Sofia Cavalletti has said. To describe it in our everyday language is very difficult. But living in these texts is something true about God, and about our relationship with God. This is the prize we seek in our Bible studies together. This truth can be held in the language of today’s universe story, or in light of all that anthropology, psychology, history, and biology have taught us about ourselves in subsequent years.
This summer I read Seven Brief Lessons on Physics by Carlo Revelli. It’s a small book with huge ideas. (No math required.) But it helps to break through the static and orderly worldview of my childhood education and glimpse the world as the “swarm of ephemeral quanta of space and matter, a great jigsaw puzzle of space and elementary particles”. This is the universe our children are introduced to, that is simultaneously a revelation of God. Part of the gift of children to us is the ease with which they see God at work in today’s universe story. Let’s be careful to learn with them, rather than confine revelation to an ancient worldview.