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Cosmic Grace

photo of Thomas Berry

Before his death in 2009, historian Thomas Berry embraced a new vision of the stars in our evolving universe: “Traditional language refers to unmerited love as grace, as love freely given. Stars, then, are bestowers of grace. They are bestowers of life." 


"Our frozen imaginations struggle to see stars as bestowers of grace because we have convinced ourselves they are objects. While it is true that our ancestral stars did not know they were giving birth to us, it is wrong to say stars do not know. They do know. They know how to create carbon, silver, boron, and calcium. They know how to participate in the ongoing development of the universe. They know how to fulfill their role in this spectacular process.”

“The central revelation of the supernova,” Berry explained, “is its irreversible gift-giving. Irreversible because the star uses its energy to fashion the elements, and once that energy is used, it is not restored. The gift requires the star’s death. Though it is a one-time endowment from the star, it is an ongoing gift-giving from the universe. Scientists estimate that with the passing of each second, another star has exploded and is disbursing its treasures. This extravagant gift-giving is the spirituality of the universe. It is a form of cosmic love that enables the future to emerge.”


Thomas Berry was a Catholic priest, yet he affirmed the inherent spirituality of the evolving material universe. Our growing awareness of this cosmic creativity, he suggested, “has led to our realization that matter is spiritual as well as physical.”


“Our ancient epics extol humans who give their lives for the well-being of the community. Even if these authors knew nothing of supernovas, they were intuitively aware that the universe values generosity. The generous personality is the human mode of a supernova’s extravagant gift-giving. What I have to offer in terms of faith is simple in the extreme. My trust is in the star’s bestowal of grace.”


These assertions by Berry are quoted in Brian Thomas Swimme’s 2022 book Cosmogenesis. Swimme, a trained mathematician and practicing cosmologist, adds that: “even without a brain or a nervous system, the early universe had the capacity to build elegant spiral galaxies and, over time, living beings with brains. Whatever we call this power, it suffused the early universe like a primordial intelligence. The universe, somehow, knew we were coming.”


Swimme concurs with Berry who concluded: “Matter, in its very structure and dynamism, generates life. A similar statement can be said about spirituality. If there is any spiritual dimension in any human throughout history, then spirituality is one of the potencies of our universe, a potency laced into the elementary particles of the primordial plasma." 


"Our discovery of cosmogenesis has led to our realization that matter is spiritual as well as physical.”


Might we recognize that the evolving universe, from its origin almost 14 billion years ago to this moment, has a purpose we can and should embrace? Might we make eco-choices worthy of the grace we have not deserved but have received?

These quotes are from Brian Thomas Swimme, Cosmogenesis (Catapult, Kindle Edition, 2022).

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