small truth or Great Truth…?

I woke this morning to hear John Humphreys trying gamely to get his head around the latest astronomical discovery – a group of quasars so large it would take 4 billion years to cross it travelling at the speed of light. The scale of the structure apparently challenges Einstein’s ‘Cosmological Principle’ – the assumption that the universe looks the same from every point of view.

Along with John, I was doing my level best to get a handle on the idea of quasars, but failing miserably. I did, though, take on board the fact that the discovery trounces scientists’ current understanding of the scale of the universe. Later, I read that Einstein’s assumption is so ingrained that researchers are struggling with the new information. ‘People are maybe understandably reluctant to give up the thing, because it will make cosmology too bloody complicated’, sighed a candid Oxford University spokesperson.

Even early on a Saturday morning, the metaphors were jumping. I went back to re-read one of the passages I had recently underlined in Richard Rohr’s new book, ‘Immortal Diamond’:

“In the authentic search for God, the field keeps expanding and never tightening. As in the universe itself, we move toward an ever greater aliveness, a greater consciousness, a deeper union… a divine allurement, which is calling the universe forward until a truly cosmic ‘Christ comes to full stature’… Do you want the Gospel to be small truth or Great Truth? That’s what many Christians must ask themselves.”

Rohr’s use of an expanding universe as a metaphor for a growing understanding of and relationship with God whisked me straight back to my Philosophy seminars at university. As a mature student, I had been euphoric at the exciting new realms of knowledge that were opening up to me after 10 years as a full-time mum – and a Christian wrestling with a dualistic worldview.

I had been brought up to understand what a dark, dangerous world it was ‘out there’ – and how only Christians (actually probably only evangelical Christians) had the Truth. Joining a charismatic evangelical church in my teens sealed the deal. It meant that anything and everything – from other spiritualities to books on psychology – that wasn’t earthed in our particular Christian worldview, was at best futile and at worst dark and dangerously flawed. Safest not to engage.

The thing is, I had no personal axe to grind about the world out there. I was drawn to it. As a curious, creative person, I sensed that it contained many bright, beautiful, and interesting things. But sadly I just reasoned that this attractiveness must be part and parcel of the danger – rather like a spiritual Venus fly trap.

I was also drawn to so many ‘out there’ people who came across as instinctively warm, generous and loving – and often more attractive personalities than some very upright Christians I knew – despite being Buddhist, gay, or whatever else seemingly counted against them. It was both sad and frustrating to live with the sense that a spiritual wall effectively divided us.

Then in that Philosophy class came the first suggestions that a Christian worldview may not, after all, be set in stone. Studying the 19th Century Crisis of Faith, I was struck by the fact that those who held on to their faith in the face of ‘undermining’ scientific discoveries, were actually the ones who had allowed the new information to adjust and enlarge their understanding of God. Those who had tried to keep their image of God penned within the old demarcations were the very ones whose faith would gradually and painfully trickle through their fingers.

For me, it was the beginning of an interesting, challenging, and liberating journey that has gently revolutionized my understanding of the nature of God, and of the integration of his creation. I just pray that embracing Great Truth never gets to be too threatening – or just ‘too bloody complicated’ – to keep on going…

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