An Evolutionary Weekend Retreat
As Christians, we are creatures formed to some extent by the opening words of Genesis: “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth …” There is a footnote to the word created. The Hebrew can also be translated, “When God began to create …” Thus we are offered two different images of creation: a static one, with everything put in place at the beginning, or a dynamic one, in which the cosmos is still unfolding and God is still at work.
All four Gospels refer back in different ways to this passage in Genesis. For instance, Matthew’s, in Greek, begins, “Book of Genesis of Jesus Christ …” The word genesis has many meanings, and is (in the NRSV) translated as, “An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah …” John’s opens with, “In the beginning was the Word … and the Word was God … And the Word became flesh …” [vs. 14] That is, God took on a material, tangible body, became incarnate, enfleshed in matter.
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, sj, (1881-1955) was, from an early age, fascinated by the solidity of things like rocks. He later became a geologist. Like most people, he had inherited a static and dualistic view of the universe in which matter and spirit were two very different things. But he came to realize that, because material things become living, sentient, intelligent, reflective beings, there must be a dynamic force in matter, empowering it to evolve. This force, he realized, is spirit.
Teilhard saw that God is involved in the cosmos from the beginning, first, as Creator, then as Redeemer. It is Christ, he says, who gives evolution its direction and purpose. His theology is that of St. Paul, in Ephesians 1:8-10, “With all wisdom and insight he [God] has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.”
This seems to imply that nothing will be lost, and that everyone and everything will finally come together in union or communion with Christ. This is what Teilhard means by the Cosmic Christ.
As you pray, ask yourself: What is my view of the universe? Is it static or dynamic?
What does it mean to be a creature? What kind of relationship do I have with the Creator?
What does it mean to be in communion with all other creatures? With Christ?
- GENESIS 1:1-2
When God began creating the heavens and the Earth, the Earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while the Spiri of God swept over the face of the waters. (NRSV adapted)
Astronomers tell us that the cosmos began about 3.8 billion years ago.
It did not come into existence by chance – it was created. Theologians have said it was created ex nihilo – out of nothing. Genesis says it began as a formless, watery void. But the Scriptures also tell us that it was created out of God’s goodness and love:
“God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.”
(Generis 1:31) “God is love…” (1John 4:16)
The Spirit of God, the Breath of God, a Mighty Wind – all these are translations of the Hebrew word ruah. The Latin word spiritus also means breath, and has many similar meanings in English: respiration, perspiration.
The Spirit is God’s creative energy, working to bring things into being, and working within everything to bring about new growth and development.
Everything has its history, and geologists (ge = earth) and paleontologists palaios = ancient) gradually discovered that rocks and fossilized bones of prehistoric animals showed the Earth to be much more ancient that the few thousand years arrived at by adding up the ages of those mentioned in the biblical genealogies (the Book of Genesis = the book of genealogies: 4:17- 21; 5:1-32; 10:1-32). Thus a conflict arose between science and religion.
Charles Darwin discovered that species develop, and Cardinal Newman showed that doctrines also undergo development. Biologists (bios = life discovered that life forms develop greater and greater complexity, from viruses to amoebas to jellyfish to vertebrates to self conscious and reflective humans. Teilhard saw the universe not as a static cosmos but as a dynamic cosmogenesis – a continually unfolding and evolving creative process in which God is involved, and which has a direction and a goal.
As you pray with Genesis 1:1-2, marvel at the dynamic force of God’s Spirit at work over billions of years.
Marvel also at the dynamic unfolding of the human desire to know as it accelerates from Aristotle to Aquinas to the present.
Marvel and give thanks and praise to God for your own being.
- JOHN 1:1-5
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. In him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
“In the beginning (en arche) was the Word (ho logos).” Combining these two Greek words gives us archeology – “the study of history and human history through the excavation of sites and the analysis of human remains” Concise Oxford Dictionary).
The sciences of geology, paleontology, and archeology tell us that human beings probably began in Africa a million or more years ago. Teilhard did field work in China, Mongolia, and South Africa, and was able to see how humanity emerged in Africa and spread across the entire face of the globe.
At some point in time the creative Word of God, after having called the universe into being, decided with the Trinity to become part of creation by becoming one of us, assuming a material, human body. The English Jesuit, Gerard Manley Hopkins, in a poem to Mary the mother of Jesus, says she
Gave God’s infinity,
Dwindled to infancy
Welcome in womb and breast,
Birth, milk, and all the rest.
The Father, the Breath, the Word: these are our names for the Three- Person God, who creates us out of love and who joins us in love, in union, in communion.
Teilhard understood that, through the Incarnation of Jesus and the Resurrection of Christ, the entire cosmos continues to grow, expand, develop, and evolve toward some future point of unity in what he called the Cosmic Christ and the Omega Point. We are part of that union, that communion, and each of us has our particular role to play in the world, with Christ, with other people, with all creation, of which we are a vital part.
As you pray with John 1:1-5, praise and thank God for the marvellous way in which the Word has drawn close to us and Christ has drawn you into himself.
III. LUKE 3:21-22
Now when all the people were baptized and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
Whenever Luke introduces Jesus at prayer, it’s because something important is about to happen. What we are given here is a revelation of the triune God; in it Jesus is anointed with the power of the Spirit as Son of the divine Father. It’s like a new beginning – the beginning of the Gospel.
The Spirit of God that swept over the waters at the beginning of creation is the same power of God that now anoints Jesus at the start of his ministry. Immediately after his baptism we’re told, “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil” (Luke 4:1-2). A better translation would say that Jesus was tested, like the people of Israel:
“Remember the long way that the LORD your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness . . . testing you to know what was in your heart …” (Deuteronomy 8:2). “… one does not live by bread alone …” (8:3) follows immediately.
After contending with the forces of evil in the wilderness, Jesus will return to Nazareth and proclaim from the scroll of Isaiah 61:1, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me.” We might almost call Luke’s the Gospel of the Holy Spirit, so often is the Spirit referred to. Luke’s second work, The Acts of the Apostles, also makes frequent mention of the Spirit, beginning with Pentecost. It is this Spirit of Love who brings the universe into being, who anoints Jesus at the start of his ministry, and who will later anoint the Church at the start of its mission.
Our own baptism, into the death and resurrection of Christ, is also our sharing in the power of the Spirit. Though we may have been baptized as infants, it is as adults that we live our Christian calling to be Christ in the world. This is made possible because Christ is already there, present in all things, leading each of us, and moving creation forward to its final goal.
As you pray with Luke 3:21-22, you can remind yourself that the Spirit of God has been poured into your heart at your own baptism. Imagine God looking upon you and saying, “You are my beloved.”
As you end ask yourself, “What have I learned in all this? Where to next?”