Catherine Hutchison writes about a workshop she attended on the Universe Story (the story as revealed by Science from the Big Bang to the present day) in Australia and why understanding the Universe Story is so important for our human evolution.
It is customary at the beginning of formal meetings and gatherings in Australia to make an Acknowledgement to Country. This is a statement includes respect to Indigenous Australians and their Elders past and present, and recognition that the land we stand on was stolen from them.
But what does Country mean from an Indigenous perspective and how does it relate to the Universe Story?
13.7 billion years ago the Universe burst into being
Aboriginal Christian leader and Wakka Wakka woman Brooke Prentis, describes Country as all lands, waters, sky, trees, plants, animals, birds, fish, rocks, mountains and all peoples. It is a sense of identity, belonging, groundedness, home. Country then relates to a place of being rather than a physicality, and has deep connections, both culturally and spiritually. This connection between culture, Nature and land is often translated in English as the Dreaming (Lacey 2021). As the Dreaming is not fixed in time (Stanner), it can relate to thousands of years ago and still be part of the present.
The late Cultural Historian Thomas Berry, maintained that Indigenous peoples of the world live in a universe in a cosmological order, whereas we, the peoples of the industrial world no longer live in the universe. How can we then in this time of great movement, that separates so many of us from our roots, families and ancestors, rediscover a sense of belonging and connection with Country?
A recent Eco-Spirituality workshop held in Melbourne and organised by Pax Christi Victoria, provided an opportunity to explore our connections and disconnections through the human evolutionary journey. Margaret Hill was our guide. She began the workshop with a challenging question:
How can we know who we are if we don’t know where we came from?
Margaret, who lives in the Gariwerd/Grampians region of Victoria, describes herself as an artist and writer of spare poetry. She has for many years worked closely with First Australians in her local Moysten community and is regenerating sixteen acres of native bushland.
As she became more involved in Evolutionary Spirituality and teaching the Universe Story, Margaret found that there was a lack of teaching material applicable to Australia. Most of the material that was available originated in the United States, with images of deer, foxes and rabbits, all non-native species to Australia. At this point Margaret committed herself to producing an Australian version of the Universe Story, which she felt “she absolutely had to do”. The result of this work was visible on the walls of the meeting room – laminated copies of Margaret’s beautiful art work relating the evolution of the universe from the Big Bang to the present day. There are forty-five pictures (which are also available in a hardback book form), reflecting our continent and Indigenous culture.
4.5 billion years ago the nine planets in our solar system formed
Copies of these pictures, each with a short description, were also placed face down on the floor. We were invited to choose one of these pictures, read its description and find the corresponding picture on the wall. This gave us our ‘point of entry’ into the Universe Story.
Three strands run through our evolutionary journey; story, connection and time. Making connections, not only with other humans but with all beings, is essential for a harmonious and sustainable existence. As humans, we have become increasingly disconnected from other species. Margaret invited us to pick up a second picture from the floor and try to identify connections to the first one we had selected. Many connections were discovered often across gaps of millions of years.
The huge evolutionary time scales in the Universe Story are often difficult, if not impossible, for us to comprehend and ‘get our heads around’. Some of us take the easiest solution i.e. to switch off. But there are other more constructive ways to approach the Universe Story such as, a sense of wonder at the magnitude of it all, reflection, and opening ourselves up to possibilities. In other words, is it necessary to comprehend the science in order to experience the Universe Story?
We learnt that our evolutionary journey is ongoing. Margaret introduced us to the concept of compulsion in order to propel evolution. In fact, the universe is constantly evolving; a phenomenon that cannot be stopped or reversed.
A section of Professor Brian Cox’s DVD, Wonders of the Universe, was shown to link the notion of the three strands and introduce the concept of destiny. Professor Cox reminded us that our universe began with the Big Bang, 13.8 billion years ago. Our universe is so immense that to complete a journey around the Milky Way, would take a million years to achieve. As humans, we are part of the universe so the Universe Story is our story and if we can see ourselves as a species rather than something apart, we are more likely to connect with other Earth species. A fundamental part of the Universe Story is time, which is woven into the fabric of the cosmos. This is a relentless journey that is our destiny. When we see stars in the night sky, we are in fact looking into the past, because of the length of time star light takes to reach the Earth. This is called deep time. The moment that stars were born is the most important event in the history of the cosmos, marking the end of the Primordial Era and the start of the great Age of the Universe: each day is different from the next; stars are born and die; the cosmos is dynamic, never static. Within the universe everything is inevitably changing, with events occurring in order, never going forward or backwards. This phenomenon is scientifically described as ‘Arrows of Time’, and which renders the notion of eternal as an illusion. Professor Cox left us with even more challenging questions:
What drives these evolutionary changes? Why is there a difference between the past and the future? Why is there an ‘Arrow of Time’ at all?
3.9 billion years ago the earth learned to take nourishment from the sun, inventing photosynthesis
3.5 billion years ago, as Earth cooled, stromatolites formed
One of the challenges of the Universe Story is language. We need a new language to accurately describe cosmic events such as sunrise and sunset, both of which do not accurately describe these phenomena. At this point we were given extracts from the writings of Thomas Berry and asked to identify the passages that ‘spoke’ to us most strongly.
Before ending the morning session, we participated in a ritual where, when prompted, we placed the pictures we had chosen at the start of the morning session, at the appropriate point of the Universe Story, which was marked out on a long rope spread over the floor. We lit a light at each evolutionary stage. This gave us a visual sense of the enormity of our universe’s evolutionary journey and the brief time that humans have appeared in it.
For 165 million years dinosaurs dominated planet Earth
Mammals emerge strongly 210 million years ago
The afternoon session was based on Andrew Cohen’s book Evolutionary Enlightenment and explored the concepts of cosmic consciousness and evolutionary impulse. Cohen, an American Spiritual Teacher, suggests that whilst matter relates to the exterior of the cosmos, consciousness or spirit forms its interior. Cohen maintains that the concept of being, which is taught in Eastern meditation practices and other traditional spirituality, is insufficient to meet the evolutionary changes we are facing. We need to develop a cosmic conscience. This requires an evolutionary impulse to move us from a state of being to one of becoming. Cohen proposes four ways in which this can be achieved:
- Clarity and teaching. This first way requires us to make the intention to evolve beyond our human egos, which is the cornerstone of all things.
- Unconditional responsibility for ourselves. In order to move on a deep time evolutionary journey, each individual needs to accept that ‘I am who I am’ and that I can make relevant choices.
- Facing everything avoiding nothing. We need to free ourselves from the influence of our egos. By denying evolutionary change we strengthen our egos.
- Conscious process perspective. This involves us seeing every aspect of our life as part of the cosmic process and that we no longer live for ourselves, but rather for the good of the whole.
Both being and becoming are necessary states. Being creates a space to make us available to becoming, which in turn allows evolutionary spirituality to occur.
Evolutionary Spirituality is the impulse behind the formation of our universe; it takes us beyond time, matter, energy and light. This evolutionary spirit or impulse stretches from before the beginning of our Universe Story, through its different stages, and is still working in all of us today. Becoming needs to be the greater part of who we are at a conscious and unconscious level. This part of us, that is free, whole and complete, has been fractured by the duality within us, which prevents us finding our greater Self. As we become aware of our own cosmic identity, we will learn to care more about the future of that process than about ourselves.
Humanoid types continued mixing and changing until 200,000 years ago
Rising global temperatures affect many living things
The Universe Story then is our story, our Country. We are part of an evolutionary process, which connects us to all other beings and entities. We left the afternoon session and this stimulating workshop with the strong message that every aspect of our human existence is an expression of that evolutionary process.
Margaret Hill – workshop leader
- Margaret Hill, Story of the Universe: a cosmic walk, (Self Published, 2017)
- Professor Brian Cox, Wonders of the Universe, (BBC DVD, 1996)
- Thomas Berry, The Great Work, (Three Rivers Press, NY, 1999)
- Andrew Cohen, Evolutionary Enlightenment: A New Path to Spiritual Awakening, (Select Books, 2011)
- Geoff Lacey, At Home in the Land: The Plenty-Yarra Corridor, (Self- published, 2021)
- WEH Stanner, in Lacey 2021
- Brooke Prentis, quoted from: Common Grace, (https://www.commongrace.org.au, 2021)
All photos © Margaret Hill except the photo of Margaret Hill © Catherine Hutchison