Finisterre: Love in the Cosmos; Supernova Grace

A pledge to keep walking beyond where I have once called home, onto where I am challenged to change, reconcile, surrender, and create in ways I hadn’t imagined.

Have you ever looked at the night sky and thought, “It is loving us.” I hadn’t. But the book I mentioned in my last post called Cosmogenesis by Brian Swimme is proposing that reality! As I continue to explore how cosmogenesis broadens my spiritual understanding of the universe and myself, I come bumping up again to Love–from a scientific viewpoint, a Christian viewpoint, a mystical viewpoint and a cosmological viewpoint. And in this moment, they all fit. Love is that big. If you are reading this blogpost, I want to confess that I am writing it for me. I’m trying to understand what I already know and what the universal intelligence is wanting to transmit to me–via those who have asked the same questions, but also to access my own way of knowing that has been within me from the beginning of time.

Thomas Berry, Catholic priest and ecological activist, was preaching in the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City when he said, “The universe, along with Planet Earth, both in themselves and in their evolutionary emergence, constitute the primary revelation of that ultimate mystery whence all things emerge into being. The most spectacular unveiling since the birth of the universe is the supernova explosion.”

I didn’t understand what he meant by that. What happened in a supernova explosion, that is, the explosion of a star? I had seen and marveled at the pictures from the Hubble telescope of supernovas. But what is unveiled in that explosion? He went on to explain that “a chemical alchemy takes place in the core of every star. The atoms of carbon are created by stars and poured out into the Milky Way. The creativity of the stars is the one and only way carbon is constructed in the universe, which means each carbon atom in our bodies came from a star.”

Okay. Stop. So there were no carbon atoms before this strange star alchemy–alchemy meaning the transformation of matter. Carbon wasn’t there at the beginning. Stars created it. I think my small human brain has to just sit here and take that in.

Berry goes on to correlate it in a spiritual sense to grace–that is, by the grace of the stars we exist. “Did the universe ask us to pay for this? No”, he says. ” Have we done anything to merit this cosmic grace? No. Stars are bestowers of grace. We are their offspring.”

Just when I was going to question if stars could know they were giving birth to us, Berry goes on to say that in one sense it is true to say that they didn’t know. “But it is wrong to say they did not know. They know how to create carbon, silver, boron, and calcium. They know how to participate in the ongoing development of the universe. They know how to fulfill their role in this spectacular process.” Again, I stopped reading. Do I know my role in this process? And haven’t I been seeking that very thing in all my spiritual seeking?

I’m reminded of Joni Mitchell’s song lyrics of “We are stardust, we are golden, and we’ve got to get back to the garden.” How strange to put these words that join this scientific fact with a cryptic reference to Eden–the garden at the beginning of creation.

Berry’s following words, “The central revelation is its irreversible gift-giving. This gift requires the star’s death. This extravagant gift-giving is the spirituality of the universe. It is a form of cosmic love that enables the future to emerge.”

I am no longer an orthodox Christian, but I experience the extravagant gift-giving of the love of Christ. Some call it kenosis–an emptying of Christ’s self. I can’t help but make this comparison between that story and Berry’s story of the supernova. It’s so interesting that I am coming to this as Holy Week in the Christian tradition begins in two days–a week that includes a willing death that emerges into life and the future, not the end. The death of a star; the death of Jesus.

I sit here pondering truths I’ve been told. I sit pondering what is my truth. I sense more and more that it all belongs. If grace and generosity and a giving of oneself is at the heart of creation, what am I willing to let die in order for the future to emerge? I am not separate from the stars I gaze at in the night sky. The stars that I now regard with new understanding, as my progenitors–that in their way of knowing, loved me into being.

The last line of Comosgenesis reads, when we look out at the night sky, we are looking at that which is looking.

More to come. I haven’t got to Julian of Norwich yet.

Finisterre: Wrapping My Head Around an Expanding Universe: Cosmogenesis

A pledge to keep walking beyond where I have once called home, onto where I am challenged to change, reconcile, surrender, and create in ways I hadn’t imagined.

I changed the pledge above of what I want this blog called Finisterre to mean. It had to include creativity and imagination now that the Universe dropped a book in my lap this past week and urged me to read it. The title is Cosmogenesis: An Unveiling of the Expanding Universe by Brian Thomas Swimme. I have so much to explore about this book that I am forewarning you that it may be the creative juice of several of my blog posts to come. Even today I began to make connections between the scientific discoveries of the universe with the mystical visions of Julian of Norwich. But that will have to wait until next time as I need to do more research.

Brian Swimme is a mathematician, a cosmologist, a philosopher and now what he feels he has been called to do for this time in our fourteen billion-year-history of this universe: to be a cosmic storyteller. What kept me reading his history of cosmology in the scientific world from 1968- 1983 was that he told his personal story. It’s a love story really about his wife and sons, his work, the universe and fellow human beings. After reading this story, I now am expanding along with the universe in my relationship to other humans, to the Earth and to the cosmos. I know. I’m gushing a little. But it feels like a turning point for me. Swimme asks his important question, “Is there a new form of trans-conceptual knowledge emerging–one that is rooted in science and yet is holistic and experiential?”

It has been nearly a hundred years since Edwin Hubble discovered that the universe is not a static given, but that it is expanding. In 1964, Penzias and Wilson discovered primal light–cosmic microwave background radiation that arrives here in all directions from somewhere near the birthplace of the universe. Our origin is in a “colossal sphere of light.” (25) It is the origin of us.

This statement alone is staggering to me. I have this simple mind that can’t really hold the thought of fourteen billion years, let alone that my origin–these very bones that can dance and the skin on my hands that can touch and my eyes that can see so much utter beauty all came from this beginning. And yet, it intersects with many spiritual teachings that God is Light; and that I am Light. I just never felt it viscerally. I didn’t connect my story with the birth of the universe. I am just these last 72 years of fourteen billion. Because I didn’t think I could comprehend the science of cosmology, quantum mechanics, black holes, string theory, etc., I didn’t allow myself to open to seeing myself as a development from the birth of the universe. That primal light to this being. This flow of energy in my body came from the beginning of time. “Our bodies churn with creativity rooted in the beginning of time,” Swimme writes.

I only know this because consciousness is expanding in this universe. And now knowing this, I am having an experience of it. It’s not just an idea; it is sensing an understanding of what it means to say ” I am.” Or as Thomas Berry, a priest , scholar and his mentor, said to Brian Swimme, “you are the universe in the mode of a human.”

I apologize to making most of this post a series of quotes, but I have to mention this one from Freeman Dyson, who was a colleague of Albert Einstein at Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Study. As Dyson put it, “In some sense, the universe must have known, from the beginning, that we were coming.” (78) Sit with that statement from an esteemed scientist. From the beginning of this universe, at its creation proven from mathematical equations that the universe knew what it was creating–us! Scientific fact that for me parallels the poetic story of Genesis. From the beginning of creating Light on the first day to the creating of humans on the sixth day, this Creative Force knew we were coming. I feel that loving intention for me to be on this planet at this time from fourteen billion years ago. Cosmological love meets Old Testament love.

My brain is struggling with all this, but my heart is not. To set my life experience in the context of the cosmos completes or satisfies or fulfills some yearning in me. And in some sense, it wakes something up I already knew.

I want to write more next week on what this new understanding means about death and grace and supernovas. Feeling a little Star-Trekky.

Finisterre: Where Lies My Loyalty?

A pledge to keep walking beyond where I have once called home, onto where I am challenged to change, forgive, reconcile and surrender.

I stopped by my home for about twelve hours after returning from retreat in Connecticut last week. After packing up new clothes and more food, I headed to our off-road cabin near Trapper Creek where family and friends had arrived earlier for the annual spring-break gathering.

I was still “on retreat” from my time in Connecticut, still pondering the teachings and the experiences. I go there to awaken to what lies unconscious in my soul and is in need of some light to transform me to more of who I really am. One aspect of the teaching impacted me greatly; it challenged me to look at what I am loyal to.

Loyalty–“support that you always give to someone or something because of feelings of duty and love.” There are my conscious loyalties to family, to friends, to specific causes, to some institutions, to vows and to beliefs–all those needed some questioning and re-imagining during the retreat. Am I loyal to those things because my ego needs them to be? Which are still true and which are not?

Yet the loyalties that are more influential are those that lay settled in my unconscious–particularly around my loyalty to mother.

I know. It seems that any psychological cause goes back to the saying, “If it’s not the Mother, it’s the Mother.” And although I’m referring to my actual mother primarily, that term leaks out to include other mothering influences. Maybe anyone where I sense holding, support, and love. Initially, for all of us, even those who didn’t have the nurturing mother I had, there is some field of gold merging love as we are born that is held in our unconscious, and it is feels so rich and luscious and unconditional that we never want to lose it. Although this is a very shortened form of an explanation of this type of love, it is so pivotal for how we develop who we become. And it feels so vital to our actual existence, that this loyalty runs deep and mostly unchallenged. It’s too scary to not have it. It is our ground when we are feeling lost or threatened. I need only to remember the words of George Floyd asking for his mother in his dying breath.

I could tell that it was scary because I didn’t really want to do the inquiry into how my loyalty to my mother may block me from full loyalty to True Nature/God–and coming to my own true nature/self. But I trusted that it wouldn’t really change my love for my mother or any other of my beloveds. In fact, I sensed it would only enhance it–if I could just get past the fear.

For instance, I wondered what part of attending church was being loyal to my mother, as she was so adamant about our every Sunday participation there. She had told me the story about saying goodbye to her father at his deathbed, and his last words to her were, “Be a good girl and go to church and you’ll be all right.” Maybe loyalty to her father was also her loyalty to church–as well as a sincere loyalty to her faith and love of God. I’m not saying that these can’t co-exist–either in her or in me. But when I asked the question, I sensed the loyalty part to her did impact my attending church. It was so much a “should.” And it was so connected with receiving her approval–which as a child seemed like a way of assuring her love as well. But I am no longer a child. What part of me goes to church out of loyalty to my mother and what part is who I really am, what my soul uniquely turns to? Part of my life practice will be asking this question again and again. Where does my ultimate loyalty lie? To my mother or to the Divine? What is my truth in this?

Even as I wrote those words, I felt a little stab of non other than disloyalty. So there is something there, something more to see. And I can only guess that there is not only my loyalty to mother, but also to the church that traditionally teaches “Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.” But where is my church now and how do I create it? Is it only on Sunday? The church itself is asking these questions. Yet there is an imprint on my young soul that feels guilt in asking those questions, and is loyal to early teachings. I know what I can do is simply feel the guilt and uneasiness or feel my resistance or whatever else arises. Dig up the unconscious and see what God will do with it now.

I also looked at what I am guessing is my loyalty to suffering. It’s pretty murky, but again both church teachings about suffering with Jesus, but also my mother’s suffering as a child and as a mother hold some stance in my soul. Suffering with them feels like showing my love and support and empathy. But is that what Jesus or my mother want? And how does that loyalty to suffering also serve to fuel my unhealthy martyr syndrome? I feel this old loyalty to suffering as I write this, feel how it has its hooks in me, sense how it even makes me feel powerful in a way. My ego feels virtuous in suffering, and as with all egoic patterns, it feels very familiar.

Where will all this inquiry and questioning lead me? All I can be sure of is that it is unknown. Most of the time I want to know and control. That is my fearful ego, always afraid when it can’t call the shots. But I know from experience, that this kind of questioning has led me into the unknown before, and always I have been held and loved, guided and turned closer and closer to that which I seek–my true self within the Holy. It’s fresh and rich and feels like I’ve dug a tunnel under and out of a jail cell.

I look back now and see that I did stay true to following my spiritual path instead of going with the family to the cabin when everyone else did. This loyalty didn’t change my love for them or their love for me. Perhaps it even brought us closer.

Finisterre: It’s a Great Pleasure

It’s Monday. It’s the day to post my blog. I thought I’d be home this morning, but I woke up in a bed in an airport hotel in Minneapolis after my flight home was delayed. The view out my window is of pretty white snow; my room is warm; I had a complimentary breakfast. And no doubt I will get home sometime today. Whenever I want to even think about the disappointment of missing my connecting flight, all have to do is think of having nothing left in my life when family and home were destroyed by earthquake in Turkey. Or think of living with the threat of bombs falling down in the street below my window if I lived in Ukraine. And of course, I could come up with a hundred scenarios to jog my gratitude instead. It quickly puts it all in perspective. And who knows? Maybe I needed another day before re-entering my familiar life.

I spent the last week at my semi-annual retreat in Connecticut with a Diamond Approach retreat group that I’ve been part of for nine years. It was on Pleasure. I anticipated a time of joy and celebration and it very much was. But as a group, we had to work through all the blocks to having pleasure and to being pleasure itself. 

For me, I was taught that pleasure only came after the work was done on the farm. In some subtle ways, pleasure had tones of indulgence or laziness. And if I dug deeper, early church teachings always paired pleasure with warnings of sin. Lust, greed, sloth to name a few. To this day, I don’t allow myself to watch a movie or take a nap in the middle of the day. Or if I am doing nothing, and I hear my husband coming in the house, I jump up and look busy, even though my husband always encourages me to relax. (But my father didn’t!) All this and more leaves me this morning more aware of what gives me pleasure and how I don’t always allow it.

 Even yesterday as I waited five hours for my plane to arrive, I noticed I found so much that delights me. Little children. A particularly good smoothie. Texts from friends wishing me safe travels. Finding a rocking chair in an isolated corner to read my book. A friendly waiter who made me laugh. The memories of skits and a dance party the last night of the retreat. 

What deepened me even more though, was the fact that I can have pleasure while at the same time holding the sadness of an earthquake in Turkey or bombs in Ukraine, climate change or a rude person in line, or yes, missing a flight. Pleasure and sorrow aren’t either/or. They are both fabric of this human life. Life is a both/and. And it’s real. It’s not even a balance of pleasure and sorrow. It’s just holding the paradox and letting myself feel whatever is here. 

We had a memorial for my dear friend, Linda , at the retreat since she died during the pandemic, and this group hasn’t been able to meet in person for three years. I was both laughing and crying with the memories–and both these things gave me pleasure. It’s a pleasure to have had such a friend and grieve her. It’s a pleasure to remember all we shared. And all this is part of a bigger understanding that everything belongs. I live so often rejecting my experience, instead of just being with it and seeing what unfolds. I wrote much about this in my book on the Camino. But that’s the way it goes—we keep coming back to the same teachings, but they land more firmly as I “keeping taking a pass at it,” as my teacher says. So eventually I have begun to walk more often where I stay open to what is happening and be curious about it, let myself feel it and don’t come up with my ideas of what’s pleasurable or not pleasurable, who’s acceptable or who’s not, what’s right and wrong, what’s good or bad. 

I need to go catch my shuttle to the airport now, but I will leave you with this Rumi poem. He wrote it a thousand years ago. We have had this wisdom available to us for so long and yet it is a hard one to live. I ask for the simple grace of surrendering to it. 

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,

There is a field. I’ll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass,

The world is too full to think about.

Ideas, language, even the phrase ‘each 


doesn’t make any sense. 

Heading home to Alaska, heading home in my heart. I’ll meet you there. 

Finisterre: Going Further

A pledge to keep walking beyond where I have once called home, onto where I am challenged to change, forgive, reconcile and surrender.

Sometimes a poem flops down in front of you and demands to be read in that very moment. Unusually insistent, always not what you had planned for the day and, for this kind of poem, one that is uncomfortable. That is the truth of the poem that opened up in a book as I moved it from my bedside table. The poem was short. The poet was Rumi who I hold dear. So I stopped my packing for a trip I leave on tomorrow and let the poem have its say.

Reach your long hand out
to another door,
beyond where you go on the street,
the street
where everyone says, “How are you?”
and no one says, “How aren’t you?”

I don’t know what Rumi was trying to say in his time, in his context, in his soul although I can guess– with Rumi’s predilection to Love. But with a poem, it’s really only relevant in how the poem stirs in the person reading it. And it stirred up in me a story from over twenty years ago when I was at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary in Berkeley, California, taking my required class in Multicultural Ministries.

The teacher was a fiery woman of Mexican heritage in her forties who served as the pastor to the prisoners at the penitentiary in San Jose. We had just returned from a field trip to that penitentiary where the population was primarily people of color. Where I saw a young man in solitary confinement look at me through a narrow window slit with one wild eye pressed so hard against the glass with a despair so great that I was thrown back by the force of it. We watched the rough treatment by the guards, the suspicious looks of the inmates, the stark, colorless, dark nature of the cell rows. Where it seemed the question always being silently asked was, “How aren’t you?” How aren’t you human? How aren’t you worthy? How aren’t you of value?

When we met back at the classroom, the teacher told us how she had recently created an Easter worship with many of the prisoners there.. She spoke of the joyous music they created, the earnestness of their desire for God, and their sense of belonging in the service that morning. She was so touched. It was only later she learned that the guards, not wanting the prisoners to remember who they really were, forced anyone who was at the church service to be strip searched–“included all orifices” is what the teacher said. “It wasn’t necessary,” she said. “The space was secure and everyone coming from outside had been thoroughly searched. They just couldn’t let the prisoners have their dignity back.” In unison, we were indignant with her.

And then she had us do an exercise that haunts me to this day. We sat around a table so that maybe ten or twelve of us were looking at each other. And we were each given the role of someone at the prison: warden, prison guards, prisoners, chaplain. She gave us a scenario which I don’t remember. But what I do remember is that within just a few minutes, we literally became our roles. Sweet Monica was the punishing warden. And she flourished in it. I was one of the prison guards who fell easily into being powerful and in control. How did I know this arrogant confidence? The prisoners shrank and grew silent for the most part. The ones who talked back were so effectively put down that maybe just ten minutes into the exercise, we had to stop. We had become the humans that made us indignant. We were the humans asking other humans, “How aren’t you?”

It shook the whole class. It literally took our breath away. As we debriefed, we all reported that we were shocked at how easily we could shift into these roles–and even more damning, that we enjoyed the roles– if we were the ones with power. “The prison guards are in prison too,” said our teacher. The prison guards can lose their true selves too.

That class taught me a lot about racism, defining it as prejudice with power. I have never forgotten that as uncomfortable as it is, I am prejudiced and as a white person, I have power. I may not want to be. I may have all the right intentions and say all the right things. And even do things that look kind and understanding to those unlike me. But it is inherent. It is patterned in me. I have much further to go as I “reach out a long hand to another door” and “beyond where I go” currently on the street.

This is good conscience, it’s not that relentless inner judge that is always trying to put me down. No, this is good conscience that turns me toward truth and points the way of integrity. And I cannot by my own strength change. This is something I cannot do. This transformation is one that walks only on the street of surrender. Being present to the truth. And waiting to be undone by Love.