Yale conference continues ‘Journey of the Universe’

Posted: November 21, 2014 at 6:54 pm


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New Haven, Conn.

"What is the creativity that brought forth a trillion galaxies?"

It is a daunting question asked by evolutionary cosmologist Brian Swimme in the film "Journey of the Universe." His line echoed throughout the halls at Yale Divinity School, where hundreds gathered for the Nov. 7-9 conference "Living Cosmology: Christian Responses to 'Journey of the Universe.' "

The conference was a historic gathering of many of the finest theologians, ethicists and activists in North America, all of whom joined together to contemplate the ways in which the Christian tradition can open up more fully to a sense of the sacredness of the universe and the flourishing of the Earth community.

"We have invited these scholars and advocates with the fundamental hope that they will help us see how deeply we are connected to the epic story of evolution," said Mary Evelyn Tucker, a senior lecturer and research scholar at Yale University and one of the conference's organizers. Tucker and her husband, John Grim, co-direct the Forum on Religion and Ecology at Yale.

"We want to continue to connect the language of Christianity to cosmology," she said.

Judging from the response to the program, it is a connection many in the Christian community are eager to make. More than 400 people signed up for the conference, and it had a lengthy waiting list. Sessions were held in the school's chapel. Three overflow rooms were also set up with a live-stream of the proceedings.

There was much for the crowd to absorb: 11 different panels, each featuring three to four scholars and engaged in conversations on the theological understanding God's relationship to creation, the influence of scientist and Jesuit Fr. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, ecofeminism, agriculture, water, racial justice, environmental ethics, eco-justice, and spirituality. Evening sessions were highlighted with musical programs and liturgies. All meals were vegetarian, and all cups, plates and utensils were compostable.

Each of these many activities orbited around one central figure: Passionist Fr. Thomas Berry, whose work on the universe story and the environmental crisis has deeply influenced generations of students, including Tucker and Grim. Berry, who died in 2009 at age 94, would have celebrated his 100th birthday on Nov. 9.

Throughout the conference, many panelists spoke of "the great work," a phrase Berry used to describe our need to work with nature's creativity. (It is also the title of his 1999 book.) He believed that if we could see the cosmos as a symphony and Earth as a living planet, we would discover our own role in these unfolding processes. It was Berry's deepest hope that we were shifting out of the Cenozoic era and into what he called the "Ecozoic" period; that is, a time when human beings would reclaim their creative orientation to our planet.

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Yale conference continues 'Journey of the Universe'

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November 21st, 2014 at 6:54 pm