By now the global human community is very much aware of the fact that we are experiencing some major social and cultural shifts both locally and in our world. There are many explanations for the details of our social instabilities including, loss of job, deep levels of anxiety and stress, shifts in community dynamics, rising costs and other forms of financial and social instabilities. These causes are real causes but they ought not be considered the root cause of the overall seismic social and cultural shifts that we are experiencing. At a more fundamental level we are becoming aware of a major shift in the way we ought to relate with one another and within our own larger environment. This shift brings with it major instabilities as the old model of doing things and existing will no longer be applicable to our social environment. All of us must wrestle with the personal and social implications of how we now understand our world in the midst of a new, emerging, cosmology.
This thesis has been developed by many within the philosophical and theological field but its basic premise bears repeating. Our scientific community is aware of an ever changing, dynamic and interconnected cosmology that has completely shifted the way we understand how the universe operates. Philosophers and theologians like Stephen Toulmin and Gibson Winter have reminded us that the way we understand how the cosmos operates consciously or unconsciously dictate how we develop personal and social relationships. Economic, political and social models bear witness to the fact that they are often devised from a concept of natural operation. The proof of this lies in looking at the preface of so many of these works like John Locke’s “Second Treatise of Government” or Adam Smith’s “Wealth of Nations” where they have enunciated their own ideas of how nature operates in order to give a cosmological authority to their own social proposals.
Theologically this concept has been worked at by famous theologians from Teilhard de Chardin in the late 1800’s to the contemporary works of Thomas Berry. Such notions and axioms such as Thomas Berry’s declaration that “The universe is a communion of subjects not a collection of objects” are adopted by the mainstream voices of our church structures. In 2010 Pope Benedict XVI dedicated his World Day of Peace message to this concept declaring among other things an ethics based on what he calls “an intergenerational solidarity:”
This is a responsibility that present generations have towards those of the future, a responsibility that also concerns individual States and the international community”. Natural resources should be used in such a way that immediate benefits do not have a negative impact on living creatures, human and not, present and future.[i]
If sacraments are seen as moments of grace within the human experience then this
emerging cosmological framework will also help us comprehend grace filled moments within this bigger picture. One of Thomas Berry’s greatest contributions was to explain the overall Universe story within a language of grace that challenges us to perceive what may appear as chaotic and violent events within a spirituality of grace. Berry reminds us, for example, how the creative and violent evolution of cellular life as it adapted within the initial deadly threat of oxygen a moment of grace, “a moment when some living cell would invent a way of utilizing oxygen in the presence of sunlight to foster a new type of metabolic process.”[ii]
Cosmological sacramentality is another contribution that Latino/a theology makes within our church and society. While pioneers like de Chardin and Berry have innovated such cosmological concepts they admit that culturally this runs into great difficulty with the traditional western paradigm of rugged individualism and ecological domination (Newtonian or mechanistic cosmology) . The cultural Latino/a experience is different and it brings into the Western world another way of looking at our cosmological relationship with the earth and one another. The works of Roberto Goizueta and Alexandro Garcia-Rivera has brought into the conversation the concept of an aesthetic rather than mechanistic cosmological model that stand in admiration to the beauty of nature. This comes from a cultural expression that mixed an indigenous perspective with an earlier (pre-Tridentine) European model of creation. Such a cultural perspective that admires the beauty of nature harkens to some of our earliest Christian natural theology where people like St. Basil the Great would say:
I want creation to penetrate you with so much admiration that wherever you go, the least plant may bring you the clear remembrance of the Creator. …One blade of grass or one speck of dust is enough to occupy your entire mind in beholding the art with which it has been made.
In their book, “La Vida Sacra: Contemporary Hispanic Sacramental Theology,” authors James Empereur and Eduardo Fernandez thoroughly discuss and update sacramental theology to contribute to the changing reality of our times. In the way they presented their material on various stages of the sacramental process they inform us of the cosmological paradigm that must inform the way we understand our sacramental life. Their thesis for this is clearly stated in their conclusion:
In postmodern times sacramental theology needs to recover its cosmic dimension, its relationship to creation. This will assist it in functioning credibility for the contemporary person. The committed Christian will need to develop a sacramental consciousness if the sacraments of the church are to be meaningful. … By experiencing the connection of the sacraments to the physical world, to our own embodied selves, and through our own psychological relationship with the objects of creation we develop this sacramental consciousness.[iii]
[i] Pope Benedict XVI, 2010 World Day of Peace Message: If you want to Cultivate Peace, Protect Creation, Par. 8, http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/messages/peace/documents/hf_ben-xvi_mes_20091208_xliii-world-day-peace_en.html
[ii] Thomas Berry, “The Christian Future and the fate of the Earth,” (Orbis Books, Maryknoll, NY, 2009) pg. 90
[iii] James Empereur and Edurado Fernandez, “La Vida Sacra: Contemporary Hispanic Sacramental Theology,” (Rowman and Littlefield, Lanham, MD, 2006) pg. 303