“What is the human? The human is a space, an opening, where the universe celebrates its existence.” – Brian Swimme
We’re told that the Earth is 4.6 billion years old and the elements of the Earth and of our bodies are even older than that. We’re told the Universe is 12-14 billion years old so that the stuff of which we are made is unfathomably ancient. The cells in our bodies have a direct lineage to ancient cells with a nucleus that developed around two billions years ago.
This remarkable new knowledge, as much as it fascinates us, seems initially to be impersonal scientific information about a vast cosmos and to not really matter or affect our daily comings and goings. But this information actually crystallizes with a great deal more, to form a coherent story of the unfolding and differentiation of the universe from the beginning to its present condition. This story challenges and informs our most basic, often unquestioned assumptions about how things are. We need great acts of imagination, of intuitive perception and celebration to help us embrace the revelatory material being offered us.
The cosmic walk, developed by Sister Miriam Therese McGillis of Genesis Farm in New Jersey, is a symbolic re-enactment that helps us enter personally into the story. Participants walk along a long rope laid out in a spiral that represents the entire story of the unfolding and gradual differentiation of the Universe and the Earth from the beginning to the present. It initially seems that it is a walk along a time-line since major events in the history of the Universe and Earth are marked on the rope by small candles at appropriate distances. For example, the beginning of life on Earth is marked, as is the first flight of birds. But actually it is much more than a time-line since we don’t observe passing events as objective observers looking from the outside but we walk into and join the unfolding of our very being and that of the entire Earth and the ecosystems of which we are a part.
By walking along the symbolically very long path and lighting a candle to mark a particular event we seek to identify with our history. After all, our present world is a new structuring in the Eternal Now of the very substance that was previously a long succession of other beings and relationships. The walk enables us to celebrate the noble creatures of the Earth, both ancient and new, to identify with the Earth and to grasp the depth of our interdependence and communion with the Earth and other beings as we participate in its unfolding out of a common origin.
Have we realized just how amazing it is to be self-aware, conscious beings, a very recent form that the Universe and Earth have become? Have we known what remarkable creatures our brothers and sisters, the plants and animals are, each with their unique sensitivities and awareness? In this time of great need the cosmic walk can help nurture a transformed consciousness enabling us to join the great work of bringing about what Thomas Berry so aptly calls the Ecozoic era.