Quaker Universalist Conversations

Universe as Revelation: An Ecomystical Theology for Friends

by Jo Farrow & Alex Wildwood — A Review

Universe as Revelation: An Ecomystical Theology for Friends, by Jo Farrow & Alex Wildwood (London, U.K.: Pronoun Press, 2013)

Can one give an anthropic twist to the Big Bang? It has been tried, most notably in 1988 by physicist Brian Swimme and theologian Thomas Berry in their widely read book The Universe Story: a celebration of the unfolding of the Cosmos. With eloquence and spiritual drama they confront squarely the transformation of human perception that has occurred in the last 200 years.

Editor’s Note: See Center for the Story of the Universe and Mind, Psyche, Spirit: The Universe Story more from Swimme and Berry.

Universe as Revelation, by Farrow & WildwoodWithin the memory of no more than five or six generations, the personification of natural forces as living spirit-beings and the ancient creation myths that composed our sense of reality and the story of our origins have been swept away. They are replaced by the vision of a universe exploding through time/space according to fixed physical principles — an ongoing event, not a place nor an object. Whether in the vastness of galaxies or the minuteness of subatomic particles, it seemingly has no relationship to human scale and no hint that we have any special role to play. To weave from this a narrative that holds meaning for individual existence and personality is a challenge indeed.

In its infancy the Society of Friends was rocked in the same 17th-century cradle with the scientific method. Quaker founder, George Fox, rose to proclaim: “This I know experimentally.” Since then his followers have been repeatedly involved in scientific investigation of the material world, and Friends are still defined by the belief that divine revelation is ongoing and did not stop in Biblical times. The conviction that God continues to speak in their meditations and meetings opens them to accepting changes in their views of fundamental reality, and many have responded with enthusiasm to the “New Story” proposed by Swimme and Berry. Yet few Quaker authors or teachers have stepped forward to pick up the story and carry it further.

One of those few is Mary Conrow Cuelho, but her book, Awakening Universe, Emerging Personhood: The Power of Contemplation in an Evolving Universe, has received little attention or acclaim from her fellow Friends. Despite an impressive triple background in biology, Christian theology, and Jungian psychology, her work seems to have struck no spark. Now, however, two British Friends have picked up the theme in Universe as Revelation. How far will their words resonate?

Writing alternate chapters, except for a joint introduction, the authors share conclusions but present them in very different styles. With sensitive description, Jo Farrow recalls her own personal life experiences in relating spiritually to nature — from the grasses and gardens of her native Britain to the teeming life forms on the seashores of New Zealand. Alex Wildwood writes with more detachment but equal or greater power, and he emphasizes the darker side of the New Story — the cosmic destruction that accompanies creation at each step, the sacrifice and suffering of the dark night that precedes enlightenment. Their joint introduction opens with the observation that “As we write this, a sense of radical change hangs in the air . . . . a sense of crisis and possibility permeates our waking consciousness and seeps into our dreams.” — More so each day, it seems, as the unwitting destruction by Anthropos of Earth’s atmosphere, oceans, and nurturing climate comes into immediate focus.

Neither author follows Cuelho’s path to the affirmation of “personhood” and self-realization. Wildwood concludes along with the Buddha that “constant movement and change are at the heart of our universe-process.” [p.148] Farrow sees the need “to do what seeds do in the darkness, to break out of the hard husk of ourselves.” [p. 141]


Friend Rhoda is a historian (see, for example, Stand Up! The Story of Minnesota’s Protest Tradition and Exploring multicultural perspectives in history), a 2002 Green Party candidate for Minnesota Lt. Governor, a founding member of Quaker Universalist Fellowship, and a long-time writer and editor for QUF publications and for this blog.

Here is a brief selection of Rhoda’s QUF pieces:

Comments

For a note on the merits of the books under review, I do fail to understand why these several important authors appear to shy away from expressing the non-Anthropic solution to the question of the creation of the cosmos, the continued maintenance of the cosmos and purpose of the cosmos, which are, to my mind, right on the edge of their tongues. It is odd. Or is it that they are being fearful of the consequences of trying to articulate the Truth based upon the continuing revelation of the truth theme that they do convey? It does seem to be an opportunity for Quakers, uniquely placed by ideology, to do that discernment on these important issues. Thank you for your pushing the boundary of my reflection.
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