Jesus often used examples from nature in his parables and sayings. A mustard seed, a vine, a pearl, a lost sheep — many of these examples were immediately followed by the word “like” to point out salient features of the Kingdom and the human search for it. The natural world spoke to him of the supernatural. Perhaps he saw no difference in the two. For him life seemed to be revelatory. It had a language. And he watched and listened and it spoke.
The natural world has astounded and drawn many seekers into its mysteries, among these seekers are Stephen Hawking and Teilhard de Chardin. I am in no position at all to make any sort of evaluative comment on their work. What I want to look at a bit is something that has long been a quandary to me. Hawking peered deeply into the universe and evolved many theories from what he saw in the cosmos. The more he stargazed, the more he was convinced that the origin of the universe will one day be explained by scientific calculations. Science was on the road to explaining everything there is to know, including you and me. Chardin, on the other hand, could gaze at stones, fossil formations, strata of earth. These revealed to him tell-tale signs of evolution, growth, life and death and ongoing beginnings. How is it that two brilliant minds could spend a lifetime pondering the mysteries of this world and arrive at such different and contradictory conclusions? In some significant ways, both men were trying to come to grips with evolution, Hawking using mathematical symbols to trace what he believed to be the origin and destiny of the universe. Chardin mapping the same terrain but discovering within it a divinely infused life and purpose.
The natural world astounds me. It also invites me to see. The instincts that compel creatures large and small to mate, nest, rear their young, teach them to avoid predators, migrate great distances — these astound me. This and so much more speaks of a design, a very intricate one that keeps the stars in place, that prompts a mother lion to teach her cubs how to hunt and that compels us wandering denizens to look to the heavens, hoping that this wondrous gift of life is going someplace and someplace good.
Maybe Jesus was onto something. There is no such entity we can call the “natural world” as existing apart from and independent of the supernatural. In Jesus, the two are revealed as one. And it is moving. And we are moving with it.
Maybe on some hot August evening I will go into a field and gaze at the stars, trying to grasp just a little bit of the mystery that they are all evolving, as if being pushed or guided by something or someone. And maybe on that night, if I remember to think about it, I will wonder about my own life as it is also caught up in this vast evolutionary web. And, finally, I will say a prayer of gratitude for the lives and seeking of Stephen Hawking and Teilhard de Chardin: Hawking, who mapped the universe, and Chardin, who placed it in God’s hands.