Skyline, Summer - 2001

By Diane Pendola


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The summer solstice is here. That extraordinary time when the sun halts its southerly arcs across the heavens and appears to stand still in the sky. Ancient peoples marked this longest day of the year in extraordinary ways. Stonehenge in England dates back to 2800 BCE. It consists of several concentric circles of stone, some weighing over fifty tons, that were transported from miles away. Viewed from the center, the sun rises over the heel stone at the summer solstice. The Anasazi Indians of Chaco Canyon, New Mexico constructed a spiral rock carving. At noon on the summer solstice a dagger of sun penetrates the center of the spiral. I marvel at the quality of attention necessary to be so tuned to the movement of the sun as to be able to create monuments of such precise recognition and celebration. I also feel a sense of sadness and loss that my own awareness of the movements of the heavens and the rhythms of the earth has become so dulled in comparison.

I have promised myself, and you, to send Skyline EARTHLINES out during these times of seasonal shifts, (summer and winter solstice, spring and autumnal equinox) as a way to remind myself to heighten my own awareness of the larger cosmic movements of which I am a part. I want to awaken my senses to the extraordinary mysteries that are integral to my apparently ordinary existence in order to more consciously participate in the larger, purposeful unfolding of which I am a part.

Which brings me to reiterate for you the more humble purposes of EARTHLINES. I am writing to share with you my love of this place called “Skyline” with the hope of nourishing some earth hungry part of you. I am writing to share the work of someone who has inspired me, namely Thomas Berry, and by extension the many people who have been teachers and guides for me on my journey. I am writing to share with you my own story, which has been shaped by the Christ Story, both of which now come alive for me in new ways through the emerging Universe Story. And finally I write because I must. Because there are other-than-human voices within me seeking human language. Because the beings of earth to whom I am cousin and kin need me, as they need you, to be their human voice for consciousness and for survival.

But before I go any further I want to make a confession to you. Those of you who come from a Catholic background may recognize an echo of the traditional “Confiteor”. The old prayers inform me, but in an evolving universe I find my prayer evolving as well. The traditional notion of “sin” as estrangement from God expands to include estrangement from any part of the earth community.

I confess
that I am an addict, addicted to comfort, to convenience, addicted to fossil fuels, to electricity and technology.
I confess
that I am a consumer of the earth’s riches and that I do not return more than I take.
I confess
that I am deaf to the world that calls out to me, that I am blind to my own complicity, that I am dumb with fear to speak what truth I do perceive.
I confess
that I waste my time and my energy in thinking, future tripping, depression – anything that will keep me from taking action-NOW.
I confess
that I fear waking up. I fear the demands of enlightenment and the suffering that a fully open heart can feel. I fear the repercussions of prophecy.
I doubt rather than believe. Despair rather than hope. Emphasize my smallness rather than my power. Excuse, blame, rationalize, deny rather than step into the
fullness of your promises.
I confess to you
my God, to you my mother earth, my sister trees, my brother creatures,
I confess to you
all of my relations, that I have broken our common trust, our covenant.
I firmly resolve
with the help of your grace to restore trust in myself and trust with you, to choose life and integrity. To speak the truth with humility. To believe in your promises:

I shall do Divine Work
Because You live in me
And I live in You.


I carry this hope in me: that the Energy that creates the Universe is creatively at work in my being, and that in and through this Loving Energy I am connected to the entire sacred web of life.

At the foundation of Buddhist philosophy and practice is the teaching of pratitya samutpada, interdependent co-arising. Everything is related. The one contains the all. I love the way the contemporary Zen Buddhist teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh describes this process of mutual dependence in his book, Being Peace.

Just as a piece of paper is the fruit, the combination of many elements that can be called non-paper elements, the individual is made of non-individual elements. If you are a poet, you will see clearly that there is a cloud floating in this sheet of paper. Without a cloud there would be no water, without water, the trees cannot grow; and without trees, you cannot make paper. So the cloud is in here. The existence of this page is dependent on the existence of a cloud. Paper and cloud are so close. Let us think of other things, like sunshine. Sunshine is very important because the forest cannot grow without sunshine, and we humans cannot grow without sunshine. So the logger needs sunshine in order to cut the tree, and the tree needs sunshine in order to be a tree. Therefore you can see sunshine in this sheet of paper. And if you look more deeply, with the eyes of a Boddhisattva, with the eyes of those who are awake, you see not only the cloud and the sunshine in it, but that everything is here: the wheat that became the bread for the logger to eat, the logger’s father- everything is in this sheet of paper. (p45-46)

This “communion” dimension of reality might be referred to by Christians as the “Body of Christ”. Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians, sees inclusion in this One Body extended to all people who “drink of one Spirit” (1Cor. 12:12). Insight into this “communion” dimension of reality has deepened and developed over the centuries since Paul wrote his letters to the fledgling Christian commmunities. I prefer to see this Body of Christ in the cosmic dimensions of which scientist and theologian, Teillard de Chardin is well known. I share the perspective that Brian Swimme articulates in this interview with U.S.Catholic Magazine in June of 1997:

Going back to Catholic doctrines, I would say that we don’t understand ourselves as isolated individuals. We see ourselves as part of a community. Our identity is in a community, and in a vaster sense, it’s not just a community of humans. To truly understand who we are, we have to understand our cosmological dimension. We are 15 billion years of creativity in the form of one particular human body, and we remain directly related to the vastness of the community. This is the doctrine of the Mystical Body of Christ. Unless we have an appreciation for this mystical dimension of the whole, we don’t really know who we are… It’s only in the vast multiplicity of the whole community that the fullness of the divine experience can be revealed.

Having been raised a Catholic from the cradle, the experience of “communion” has been formative. “The bread that we break is a communion with the body of Christ. Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body because we all partake of the one bread” (1Cor. 10:17). “Communion” has been an organizing symbol in my life, and Christ an organizing story. When I was working with women in prison I constantly returned to this communion insight: that we are one body and that when one member of the body suffers the whole body suffers. I often reflected how blind we are as a society: that we don’t realize that we must help heal those members of our body who are estranged, sick, addicted or suffering in order for our society to be healthy and whole. To think we can cut off those members of our body who offend with punitive treatment, by putting them in prisons or worse, by executing them, is to deny our fundamental interconnectedness, to deny the body of Christ, and to promote disease and disintegration rather than health and wholeness.

I have come to understand this truth of our communion in the context of the larger earth community of which we are all a part. The whole earth is the body of Christ. What we do to the earth, we do to ourselves.

I consider myself a “radical” catholic. I like the word “radical” and I intend it in several of its meanings: arising from or going to a root or source; carried to the utmost limit; favoring or effecting revolutionary change; one who advocates political and social change. I like the word “catholic” because contrary to much of the history of the Catholic Church, which has often been oppressive, exclusionary and misogynist, the word actually means universal, all-inclusive, broad and comprehensive, and yes, even liberal! As an adult I have chosen to continue on the Catholic-Christian path, certainly not because of its on-going (anti-catholic by the way) institutional repressiveness, but because I am fed by its mystical and contemplative center. I am rooted in the story of Jesus and the risen presence of Christ in the inspiring people who embody his teaching of all- inclusive love and compassion. From this root, this radical catholicism, my life has grown outward in meaning and purpose. But this root sinks its life into the sustaining soils of earth, drinks from the waters of earth, grows to maturity under the sun from whom the earth derives her energy and breathes the common breath that unites all life on earth. In this sense my Christian root is derivative of a prior and more fundamental source: my Original Mother, the Earth. And even prior to the earth, to the original flaring forth of the universe 15 billions years ago, to the Original Fire, the Original Light, who gave birth to the earth and to the children of the earth, who gave birth to us.

Listen to what mathematical cosmologist, Brian Swimme says about this original flaring forth:

We need to start with the story of the universe as a whole. Our emergent cosmos is the fundamental context for all discussions of value, meaning, purpose or ultimacy of any sort. To speak of the universe’s origin is to bring to mind the great silent fire at the beginning of time.

Imagine that furnace out of which everything came forth. This was a fire that filled the universe,
that was the universe. There was no place in the universe free from it. Every point of the cosmos was a point of this explosion of light. And all the particles of the universe churned in extremes of heat and pressure, all that we see about us, all that now exists was there at the beginning, in that great burning explosion of light. (p27)

For those of you familiar with the prologue to John’s Gospel in the New Testament of the Bible do you hear any similarities?

In the beginning was the Word (the Light)
The Word (Light) was with God
And the Word (Light) was God.
He (the Light) was with God in the beginning.
Through him (the Light) all things came to be,
Not one thing had its being but through him (the Light).
All that came to be had life in him (the Light)
And that life was the light of humanity,
A light that shines in the dark,
A light that darkness cannot overpower.

What is so exciting to me, is that in our time the discoveries of science, of quantum physics, of mathematical cosmologists like Brian Swimme complement and even illuminate the mystical intuitions and insights of our spiritual traditions. For example, the intuition that has been a central organizing principle of the Christian churches since Jesus shared a last supper with his friends before his death: that at the deepest core of our humanity we share a kindredness with the divine source of the universe and are fed by that in our communion with one another, is now a part of scientific discourse. And what this has opened for me is a whole new way in which to understand the symbols of my tradition. The emerging story of the universe has the power to liberate these symbols from their exclusive claims and narrow anthropocentrism to become truly cosmic in their meaning and interpretation.

And this is true not only for the Judeo-Christian tradition whose emphasis on the unfolding story of God’s people in history, on linear time, on incarnation and, by implication, on the divinization of matter, finds a new depth dimension in the story of an unfolding universe, with a beginning in time and an unfolding purpose evolving towards an ultimate fulfillment. But the Buddhist insight that emptiness is form, form is emptiness, that what we perceive to be real arises from an interdependent web of relationships which ultimately arise from and return to emptiness, is also present in the story of the universe now emerging out of the radical new discoveries within the scientific enterprise.

Again, Brian Swimme, in answer to the question where do the creative powers come from?

From the same place that everything comes from. From the same place out of which the primeval fireball comes: an empty realm, a mysterious order of reality, a no-thing-ness that is simultaneously the ultimate source of all things… In the language of physics we call it quantum fluctuation. Elementary particles fluctuate in and out of existence… elementary particles leap into existence and then disappear. A proton emerges suddenly- where did it come from? Who made it? How did it sneak into reality all of a sudden?

We say it simply leapt out of no-thing-ness. There was no particle. Then there was… I am saying that particles boil into existence out of sheer emptiness. That is simply the way the universe works… I say no-thing-ness. Or emptiness. But this only reveals the limits of language. We are approaching an Ultimate Mystery, something that defeats our attempts to probe and investigate. There was no fireball, then the fireball erupted. The universe erupted out of nothing, all of being erupted into shining existence.

What I would like you to understand is that this plenary emptiness permeates you. You are more fecund emptiness than you are created particles… Indeed, if all the space were taken out of you, you would be a million times smaller than the smallest grain of sand. But it’s nice knowing we are this emptiness, for this emptiness is simultaneously the source of all being. (pp 37-38)

I am excited about having this new language to articulate both these intuitions: the west with its emphasis on “shining existence” and the east with its emphasis on the “fecund emptiness”. Both are true. Both are grounded in reality. As Brian says, This story does not diminish the spiritual traditions of the classical or tribal periods of human history. Rather, the story provides the proper setting for the teachings of all traditions, showing the true magnitude of their central truths. (p. 39).


I would like to close this issue of EARTHLINES with a personal reflection on Jesus. There is a conservative and fundamentalist Christianity asserting itself in the world and particularly here in the United States which I find exclusive, fear-based and hostile to my own understanding of the all-inclusive spirit of Christ. I find it taking hold within both Catholic and Protestant circles. Consequently I feel my non-Christian friends antagonistic towards Jesus and my progressive Christian friends silent in the face of this aggressive defining of Christianity from the perspective of the religious right. As a result I find myself asking over and over again who Jesus is for me. I find my questioning wonderfully informed by the Universe Story, by my engagement with the work of Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry and by my own listening to the Spirit Who Moves In All Things.

Jesus, who are you in me? When I speak to you I do not speak to a man who lived 2000 years ago. I speak to the potential within myself to transform darkness into light; death into life. I speak to Light and Life within me. I speak to the possibility that all things can be created new and fresh; that old world and old sin and old brokenness can be bound up and made whole. I speak to the reconciling power within me: the power that takes in what has been cast off; that centrates what has been marginalized; that lifts up what has been cast down; that heals what has been broken in the human body, the earth body, the cosmic body.

If I can discover this power pulsing in myself; if I can nurture it and give it sustenance through choice, through prayer, through the work of mind and hand and heart; if I can allow my own dross to be pounded out into gold through the crucible of life, why then would I have any trouble understanding the incarnation- of the Divine power becoming human? If I know the violence and struggle of life in my own flesh and the temptation to despair from which hope always seems to triumph, why then would I have any trouble understanding the divine power crucified, but not destroyed- of the power of Resurrection? It must happen in one if it is to happen in the many. This power is in me because it has become flesh, it has become matter and thus all matter becomes divinized, becomes one body in the unitive energy of Divine becoming.

We are young as humans on earth- the youngest race, the newest creation, still being shaped, still being called by the divine heart of matter into a fullness still before us. Jesus is just born, today, in the cosmic scheme of the universe. 2000 years is but a second in the 15 billion year unfolding that brought Jesus to birth, that brings an embracing, including, conscious divinity to birth in the human mind and heart. It is still taking birth today, this Christ mind, this inclusive heart, this potential within us for love, for compassion, for the recognition that “other” is none other than our Self. And it is not jealous if it is called by any other name, but abhors the idolatry of any name that limits the inexhaustible well of truth from which this particular name, Jesus, springs. The raft is not the shore. Nor is the finger pointing at the moon, the moon. If the name of Jesus awakens the lure of the moon within you; if the story of Jesus provides a raft to carry you to the shore; if the mind of Christ awakens the non-dual unitary mind within you- then AMEN and AMEN and ALLELUIA.


Recommended Reading:

The Universe Is A Green Dragon, by Brian Swimme, 1984, Bear & Company, Inc.
The Universe Story, by Brian Swimme & Thomas Berry, 1994, HarperCollins.
Befriending the Earth; A Theology of Reconciliation Between Humans and the Earth,
Thomas Berry with Thomas Clarke, 1991, Twenty-Third Publications.
Being Peace, by Thich Nhat Hanh, 1987, Parallax Press.
The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching, by Thich Nhat Hanh, 1998, Parallax Press.

(Quotes by Brian Swimme are from The Universe Is a Green Dragon, except for the quote from the interview with U.S. Catholic Magazine entitled, “Where does your faith fit in the cosmos?” June 1997 issue).

I would like to hear your response to Earthlines. Feel free to email me at, or write to Diane Pendola, PO Box 338, Camptonville, CA, 95922

©Diane Pendola, September 2001. You are welcome to print or make a copy in electronic form for personal use or sharing with interested persons as long as the copyright notice is not removed or altered. Please do not print it in any other publication, or sell it, by itself or as part of another work, without express written permission of the author. Thank you!

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