Friday, March 30, 2007

Noticing the signs

Continuing with comments and reflections on part of a paper by Vatican Observatory astrophysicist Fr. Bill Stoeger SJ, one gets to the question implied at the end of the previous post: if we have to understand the dynamic nature of creation, including evolution, to better understand ourselves and God, then just what can we learn? Fr. Stoeger points us to our need to learn to look at nature as Christians:

Secondly, evolution forces us, therefore, to take the immanence of God in Nature, in creation, in our lives very seriously. God is present and active – in many different and wonderful ways – in all that is going on. Sometimes we tend to think of God’s creative action only in special events of intervention – miracles. But this is a very distorted and constricted view of God’s action. St. Ignatius Loyola, in his “Contemplation for Obtaining Divine Love,” at the end of his Spiritual Exercises, asks us to consider how all the wonderful things around us – including ourselves – the gifts of creation and the gifts of redemption – are expressions of God’s great love for us. After asking us to express our love for God in return in complete commitment, Ignatius goes on to ask us to consider that God is present in all his gifts – not only does God give us gifts as signs of God’s care and love, but God give us God’s self in the gifts. Next, Ignatius goes even further, asking us to reflect on the fact that God is not only present in all that God has created and bestowed but that God is working and struggling for us out of love in all things. It is clear that the first stage of the “Contemplatio” refers to creation, the second stage reflects the profound impact of the Incarnation on all reality, and the third stage sees the immanence of God in terms of vulnerability, struggle and suffering of Christ – of God – in creation. This is the deeply Christian perspective the natural sciences and all the processes they reveal to us reinforce.
My rather beat up copy of God in the Dock is not handy -- I had it at work and it got packed up with all my professional books -- but I remember one essay by C. S. Lewis from that collection on the nature of miracles. He pointed out that God has a particular style, that most of what we term miracles are God doing quickly and obviously in one place, as a sign, just what he is doing less obviously throughout His creation. When at Cana, Jesus turned water into wine, He was only doing in an instant what grape vines and yeast will do over months if given the chance. It was a sign pointing to just who was behind the natural process of growth and fermentation, and that it was a gift from God to us.

The point is that signs are for following -- what is important is what they lead us to. We cannot remain enamored of the little miracles, because they are flashy and catch our eyes, to the detriment of the greater reality that they point to. Let us use our senses fully in learning from the created world, so that we are better prepared to understand those things beyond our senses, beyond that which is created.

In the next paragraph, Fr. Stoeger moves from immanence in nature to the transcendence of God.

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