SO IT SEEMS TO ME – An Occasional Reflection by Bob Bossie, SCJ
Stephen Hawking has died. The renowned astrophysicist lived the last thirty years of life almost fully paralyzed, but fully committed to the understanding of the world we inhabit in all its wonder. His life was a great benefit to the whole world including the world of faith, not just astrophysics. Recall that Thomas Aquinas reminded us that the natural world was a reflection of the living God. Hawking, unwittingly or not, pushed that revelation to new levels. I believe he helped us to understand better how God is present in and continuing the act of creation even now. This casts our care for creation in even deeper spiritual levels than we might have thought.
Standing on the shoulders of Newton, Einstein and other such luminaries, Hawking furthered what I call science as another form of mysticism, in ways that are more understandable to the average person. His book A Brief History of Time, which sold over ten million copies in twenty years, is testimony to his impact. For me, he also stood on the shoulders of people like Fr. Dehon who instructed us to stand in the world with the bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other; that is to say, so as to be able to show the presence of the living God in our daily life and the whole material world and universe as well. Thus, the work for justice and care for the earth are not just utilitarian. They are, essentially, spiritual activities.
This might seem a strange conflation of persons and facts especially since Hawking said he did not believe in God because he found it unnecessary to postulate a god when science could explain the natural phenomenon more than adequately enough. But, in so doing, he pushed the image of God even further than many God-worshiping persons have done. While we may believe that such thinkers as Hawking and those who are more secular in their views denounce or diminish the living God, they are saying to us that our God is not enough for them. That there must be much more than the One we tend to worship and preach or there is no God.
I personally had such an experience years ago. I lay on a couch in a friend’s basement apartment in Hollywood, California and decided to stop participating in the world unless I could find a reason to do so. I thought of the many persons who were close to me, including my dear mother, but they were all insufficient. I thought of the God whom I knew at that point but I was forced to say, “I am sorry. You are not good enough.” I thought all the way back to my birth but could not think of any reason to continue. I was about to quit when I thought, what about before you were born?
In a flash, I thought of my conception. At that very instant, all I “heard” was “God.” The word “God.” And at once I was immersed in this God beyond any understanding or words or time. I could not distinguish in any way the difference between myself and God. I was fully and completely lost in this state of being God. This God and I were one to the extent that I was God. I no longer existed. Only God. Then I knew that I was holy, good, lovable and worthy of reverence as were all other persons, creatures and things because they too were in and of the living God. This interconnectivity of all being is the ground for the work of social justice and care for creation.
It is for this reason that I have come to believe that atheists, agnostics and secularists are pushing us beyond our preconceived notions of God. I know that most often they don’t actually say these words but, to be honest, that is their message to us, we believers. And this is most challenging to churches and its members because it calls into question, yet again, the God we profess and the divisions we create in our world. Yet, did not Jesus do the same thing, that is, call into question the image of God and the social and religious divisions as was then being proclaimed?
I heard an SCJ friend say, years ago, that Jesus’ contemporaries knew he was human. They had trouble knowing he was divine. It might be said the opposite today. We “know” he is God but we have real trouble understanding he was human, like ourselves. Jesus’ incarnation revealed, yet again, that all of creation, including we humans, are in and of the living God.
In this same tradition of Jesus, Aquinas, Hawking and secularists, Pope Francis has embarked on a similar journey by calling into question the manner in which many people of faith view God’s presence in the natural world, that is, as a throw away reality. For those persons, the natural world is here simply as a conveyance for our temporal existence and not of value in and of itself. This can be said to be true, it seems, as evidenced by our behavior toward all other creatures large and small and the earth itself. They are here for our convenience.
In his encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si (On Care for our Common Home), Francis teaches us that the natural world, of which we are a part, is a real and tangible manifestation of the living God and, by necessity, worthy of love and reverence. Otherwise, the incarnation of Jesus, the second person of the Trinity, is merely a good story with no real roots in reality.
Is it any wonder, then, that Pope Francis chose St. Francis as his namesake? For it was St. Francis who spoke of Brother Sun and Sister Moon. Though these words are merely allegorical in some person’s minds, Pope Francis and other mystics, including Hawking, have shown this interconnectivity is the nature of God’s universe.
It seems to me that God is now using persons of science and religion to push us beyond our preconceived notions of God’s own self and the false divisions within society to a new level of what it means to live in community in harmony with all creation. Might I be so bold as to call them prophets or apostles of the living God? They remind us that God cannot be confined to our concepts however good and honorable they may be. For the living God is ever yet to be met anew, each and every moment of our lives. And we are invited to live this union to which we are being exposed ever more clearly each every day.
So it seems ever more clear to me that the works of science, social justice and care for creation are, essentially, spiritual activities.