“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you.” Jeremiah 1:4
As I grow more acquainted with the work of the Jesuit scientist and mystic Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Scriptures that have long held particular and personal meaning for me, are taking on new meaning. For example, this passage from the prophet Jeremiah has often brought me consolation in the assurance of God’s intimate knowledge of me, connection to me, and nurturing care for me. While this remains true, Teilhard’s reflection on evolution as God’s way of creating life and abiding within life, helps me to know that my coming to birth at a particular place and time in history, is but a moment in the process of my coming to birth over billions of years in the unfolding and evolving story of the universe.
All of us have emerged, not only from the wombs of our mothers, but also from the womb of the universe. The journey of the universe, from which we have all come forth, began in the great flaring forth of God’s passion for life over 14 billion years ago. We know that the power of this great love was also present through the passion and love that was our parents, and now continues through us and all creation as God’s abiding love and presence energizing and drawing all life forward into the future.
Kinship, in the context of an evolving universe, is at a wider scale than the nuclear family and extended family to which we belong. In her Madeleva lecture Elizabeth Johnson writes,
Molecular biology shows that the same four bases make
up the DNA of almost all living things. The genetic structure of
cells in our bodies is remarkably similar to the cells in other
creatures, bacteria, grasses, fish, horses, the great gray whales.
We have all evolved from common ancestors and are kin in this
shared, unbroken genetic history. To put it more poetically,
we human beings as physical organisms carry within ourselves,
‘the signature of the supernovas and the geology and life history
of the Earth.’ Elizabeth Johnson, Women, Earth, And Creator Spirit. P. 35
In very real ways we are connected “as kin” to all living beings. Just as our relationship to our family binds us in a web of relationship—hopefully marked by care, responsibility, and concern for one another—our kinship with all living beings with whom we share DNA, also binds us to relationship, responsibility and care. Knowing the story of how our coming to birth, that is, “before being formed in our mother’s womb” is connected to the wider story of God’s giving birth over billions of years is essential to our knowing ourselves, knowing our kinship with all creation and knowing who God is, how God is and where God is. Knowing the story of the evolving way that God brings all to life, is also essential to our capacity collaborate with God in nurturing and giving birth to the future of life on this imperiled planet.
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you.”
Take a moment and reflect on the meaning these words now hold for you.
Sister Arlene Flaherty, OP